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29 April 2012

Robbers disguised as Muslim women hit Philadelphia banks

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Muslim leaders fear use of the disguises could put Muslim women in danger or make them objects of scrutiny. They've offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.


By Michael Muskal


A string of bank robberies, carried out by people disguised in traditional Islamic woman's garb, has prompted concerns among religious, government and law-enforcement officials in the Philadelphia area.


The robberies, at least five since December, were carried out by people wearing full-length robes and veils to hide hair and part of the face, according to some surveillance tapes broadcast by local TV stations in Philadelphia. Muslim leaders fear use of the disguises could put Muslim women in danger or make them objects of scrutiny.


The Muslim leaders offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robbers.


The use of Muslim disguises seems to be contained to the Philadelphia area, according to Muslim groups and law-enforcement officials.


In the past, bank security officials elsewhere raised concerns about the potential for Muslim headscarves to hide identity, Amina Rubin, a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said by telephone from Washington, D.C.


They were worried that the scarves might hide faces from security cameras; when shown that the scarves don't do that, they were satisfied, she said.


In the Philadelphia case, the robbers tried to hide their identity as much as possible, also wearing face veils.


Although the only recent reports involving Muslim attire designed to hide the identity come from that area, a council official said there may have been a handful of similar reports over the years from elsewhere.


The robberies and disguises have reignited concerns that arose from the radical Islamic attack against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.


Civil-rights groups have warned that some Muslims have been targeted for surveillance and investigation since then.


There is a danger that the disguised robbers could inflame ethnic tensions. "These type of cowards set us back," Philadelphia Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. said.


(Courtesy: The Seattle Times)

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