Talk­ing ter­ror­ism in small-town U.S.A.

Winnipeg Free Press - Section H - - VIEW FROM - ALLEN ABEL

BUENA, New Jer­sey — The last town you’d ex­pect to be a hot­house of ter­ror is the first place I stop for gas on a drive to New York. It’s a semi-ru­ral cross­roads in the flat­lands of South Jer­sey, pop­u­la­tion 3,873, known for its plump blue­ber­ries and piney woods, and now fa­mous as the na­tive soil that fer­til­ized yet an­other al­leged home-grown, Amer­ica-hat­ing, would-be Is­lamic avenger named Sharif Mob­ley.

Two years ago, Mob­ley van­ished into the rad­i­cal rats’ nest of Ye­men, os­ten­si­bly to “study Ara­bic.” Two weeks ago, hav­ing been ar­rested over yon­der in a sweep of al-Qaida rene­gades, the Ji­hadist Jer­sey Devil resur­faced — to Amer­ica, and to his cha­grined fam­ily — af­ter re­put­edly mur­der­ing a hospi­tal guards­man when the man set down his gun to wash him­self and pray.

Shot him right in the face, the news re­ports said.

“The 26-year-old Amer­i­can of So­mali de­scent has a level of train­ing and cun­ning char­ac­ter­is­tic of the ter­ror net­work,” noted the As­so­ci­ated Press.

“I can tell you this: He’s no ter­ror­ist,” Sharif’s fa­ther coun­tered, at home on Ply­mouth Street in Buena. And his mother said, “He’s never been in trou­ble.” He is now.

Dooms­day prophe­cies of do­mes­tic “sleeper cells” and lone-wolf war­riors seemed to be ful­fill­ing them­selves in rapid or­der. Mob­ley’s un­veil­ing came just a few days be­fore the ar­raign­ment of a blonde from Penn­syl­va­nia named Colleen LaRose — a.k.a. “Ji­had Jane” — on charges she had scav­enged the In­ter­net for al­lies with whom to com­mit at­tacks on the in­fi­del West.

The fact that Sharif Mob­ley had worked as a labourer at six nu­clear power sta­tions in the United States be­fore his de­par­ture also did not go un­no­ticed. It was easy to imag­ine him tip­toe­ing out of the plant with plu­to­nium in his pock­ets; Homer Simp­son gone over to the Dark Side.

De­spite all of this, here is your brave cor­re­spon­dent, now, all by him­self in Buena, New Jer­sey, which is pro­nounced “b’YOO-nah,” which is not sur­pris­ing, given that Cairo, Illi­nois is KAY-ro and, El­do­rado, Texas, where all those po­lyg­a­mist Mor­mon wives in bon­nets were rounded up a cou­ple of years ago, is el-doh-RAY-duh.

“Do you know Sharif Mob­ley?” I ask the first na­tive b’yoo­nan I en­counter. He is a very pleas­ant fel­low named Andy Ro­driguez, age 23, who is work­ing at the Wawa petrol sta­tion while study­ing to be a pro­fes­sional phys­i­cal trainer.

“He was one of my clos­est friends in high school,” the gas jockey replies.

We chat for a while about the boys’ time to­gether at Buena Re­gional High School, home of the Chiefs, where young Sharif used to show off his karate skills and do back­flips off the cafe­te­ria wall at lunch.

“He was real out­go­ing,” Ro­driguez says. “He was the kind of per­son who liked to be the cen­tre of at­ten­tion. We used to im­per­son­ate our favourite wrestler. Sharif was al­ways The Rock, and I was Stone Cold Steve Austin.

“He was a real cool kid, maybe a lit­tle ar­ro­gant, but in high school you see that a lot. I knew he was a Mus­lim, and he’d talk about his re­li­gion, but he wasn’t try­ing to push his re­li­gion on any­body else.”

“How did you feel when you heard he’d been ar­rested as al-Qaida ter­ror­ist in Ye­men?” I asked.

“Shocked,” says Andy Ro­driguez. “I talked to a lot of the peo­ple we went to school with, and they never would have sus­pected. My brother grad­u­ated with him, and he never sus­pected ei­ther.” What’s the les­son here?” I ask. “Ap­par­ently you never re­ally know who you re­ally know,” Andy Ro­driguez replies.

I ask Ro­driguez to char­ac­ter­ize lit­tle Buena, New Jer­sey, and he calls it “just a quiet town, not a lot of crime.” But then I grab a news­pa­per at the Wawa and stop for lunch at the lovely Villa Faz­zo­lari. Here, I dis­cover that the front-page in The Daily Jour­nal, in ad­di­tion to an ar­ti­cle about Sharif Mob­ley ( Buena ter­ror sus­pect used prayer as ruse), con­tains one re­port about a lo­cal bowl­ing al­ley that has been burned down by an ar­son­ist, and an­other one head­lined Man shot in down­town Vineland.

“So this is where that al-Qaida kid came from!” I an­nounce to the house while eat­ing my de­li­cious penne mari­nara.

“Ac­tu­ally, that’s our sec­ond ter­ror­ist,” a woman at the bar says drily. “We had an­other one a cou­ple of years ago.”

And she’s right: six Mus­lims were caught near here in 2006 while plan­ning to at­tack the mil­i­tary base at Fort Dix and “kill as many sol­diers as pos­si­ble.” Fort Dix is only 40 miles from Ply­mouth Street in Buena, New Jer­sey.

“It must be some­thing in the wa­ter,” the woman says. Hear­ing this, I switch to bot­tled tea.

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