'Not a comfortable feeling' after second attack on suburban Muslim group

No injuries after explosion in Lombard; police to step up patrols

Updated 8/14/2012 11:54 AM
  • Police say a homemade bomb was set off outside the College Preparatory School of America in Lombard late Sunday during Ramadan prayer services.

      Police say a homemade bomb was set off outside the College Preparatory School of America in Lombard late Sunday during Ramadan prayer services. Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

Leaders at an Islamic school in Lombard where a homemade bomb was detonated during a Ramadan prayer service said increased police patrols might provide peace of mind after a second attack in three days on a suburban Muslim organization.

"We were not expecting this, but things are going around in different places," said Mohammed Saeed, who is on the board of directors at the College Preparatory School of America. "It's not a comfortable feeling."

Saeed said about 50 worshippers, including a few children, were attending prayer services at the school about 11:30 p.m. Sunday on the 300 block of West Madison Street when they heard a "big blast like a bomb." Outside, they found a plastic 2-liter bottle, which police described as a "MacGyver bomb," near a window.

No one was injured, but the attack stoked fears among suburban Muslims already on edge after an air rifle shooting at a Morton Grove mosque two days earlier.

Saeed said it appeared that whoever set off the bomb tried to throw it through a window and into a gymnasium where worshippers had gathered.

Pat Rollins, deputy Lombard police chief, said the bottle was apparently filled with acid and other chemicals that, when mixed, explode "in a matter of seconds." No one was in custody Monday.

"Anyone who knows anyone involved or has heard anyone talking about it should call us," he said. "We're going to need the public's assistance unless someone steps forward" and takes responsibility.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago issued a statement saying it was "appalled at the increasing attacks on Muslim institutions." It also suggested some of the blame lies with U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh, who came under fire last week for commenting that a violent, radical "stream of Islam" threatened Addison, Elgin and Elk Grove.

"It's not a surprise to me that this would happen during campaign season when somebody who represents this district in leadership makes comments about the Muslim community or any other faith community that embed fear and divide communities," CIOGC Associate Director Ahlam Jbara said of Walsh, a McHenry Republican.

The congressman's office responded that the CIOGC "should be ashamed" for making such suggestions.

"This kind of political showmanship by CIOGC does nothing to address the real issues," Walsh spokesman Justin Roth said in an email. "As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Congressman Walsh will continue to look into and speak about the very real danger that a very small strain of radicalized Muslims right here in America pose to this country."

Sunday's explosion happened about 48 hours after authorities say David Conrad, 51, fired an air rifle at the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove. Conrad, a neighbor who has complained about the construction of the center, was charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm and criminal damage to property.

The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that vandals also fired numerous paintballs at the Grand Mosque of Oklahoma City early Sunday.

And last week, six people were killed when a white supremacist opened fire inside a Sikh temple near Milwaukee. The gunman later killed himself.

"This all started off with the Sikh temple and, after that, I think all of a sudden we started having things happen," said Imaad Shaikh, another board member at the Lombard school. "It's unfortunate that people have misunderstandings and start acting out of hate. It's surprising, but it just makes you aware we all need to be prepared."

The school will have an emergency board meeting about tightening up security, which could include upgrading surveillance cameras and hiring security officers, Shaikh said.

"We do feel pretty safe, but the one thing is, if somebody really wants to do it, no matter how many security cameras you have, somebody can always do something," he said.

Saeed said the Lombard school opened about 22 years ago and has never before come under physical attack, other than instances of minor vandalism. About 400 students attend the school, which is used for prayer services and other activities during summer break.

Shaikh said the school has a good relationship with its neighbors and is looking to expand because of increasing enrollment. The institution caters to high-achieving children headed for top universities and has an average ACT score of 28, he said.

"We are a peaceful community with a very dedicated staff, teachers, and parent volunteers," he said.

The explosion happened at a particularly sensitive time for Muslims, who are in the midst of Ramadan, an annual monthlong observance of fasting and prayer. But Saeed said the school had no plans to cancel or relocate events, which continue through the week.

"If they increase the police patrols, I think we will be comfortable," he said.

Rollins said Lombard police are stepping up patrols around the area in response to Sunday's attack. There haven't been any other reports of vandalism or major incidents at local churches recently, he said.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call police at (630) 873-4400.

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