Fort Pierce: Since the Orlando massacre, the small Muslim community of Fort Pierce, Florida — the killer’s hometown — has found itself the target of hate-filled insults and abuse.
“Scumbags!” — the phrase is hurled from a pickup truck rolling by the Fort Pierce Islamic Center, housed in what was once a church.
As the faithful arrive at the center, passing cars honk and their occupants fling out profanity-laced slurs against Islam — including not-so-veiled death threats.
Fort Pierce’s only other mosque, located along a highway, is in a totally anonymous building behind an auto dealership.
But anyone who didn’t know of the Islamic Center’s existence before Sunday’s bloodbath at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, can’t miss it now.
Journalists and TV crews are camped outside for several hours a day, drawing attention to the center where the killer, Omar Mateen, attended mosque as recently as last Friday.
“We’re scared,” said Bedar Bakht, a taciturn Pakistani in his 50s who prepares the evening Iftar dinner at which the faithful break their daylong fast during this Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Many stay until nearly midnight for what is normally a time of celebration, but now they leave the building in groups when it is time to go home — as a precaution, Bakht said.
“A couple of weeks down the line, things will be back to normal. But right now it’s new. People are calling, leaving stupid messages,” he said.
– ‘Ashamed’ -This is the second time this house of worship has received unwelcomed publicity.
Moner Muhammad Abusalha, the first American suicide bomber in Syria’s civil war, used to frequent the center before leaving for Syria where he was killed in May 2014.
Mateen, who apparently knew Abusalha, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State group after opening fire in Pulse, a popular Orlando gay club, early Sunday.
The bodies of 49 people were recovered after police stormed the club and shot and killed Mateen.
“We’re cool people. We never had any problems. But because of what that guy did, we’re ashamed,” said a man in his 50s as he left the building.
“It used to be a night where everybody would celebrate. Now look, there’s nobody. Only three people,” said the man.
In the end, several dozen people turned out for the Iftar dinner, well shy of the hundred or so people who normally attend.
“I think I cooked too much,” said Bakht.
Yussef Thorne, one of only a few black Muslims in the Fort Pierce community, alluded to Mateen as he arrived: “I’m a Muslim and I’m one of no fear. I come to pray. (…) And I pray for him, too.”
– ‘Destroyed almost the whole family’ -Not even Mateen’s father, Seddique Mateen, is so forgiving.
“If he hadn’t done this horrible act probably I would, but right now I don’t forgive him,” Mateen, dressed in a coat and tie, told reporters.
“I don’t know what, why he did it, but it’s unforgiven to hurt their own family, we live in the United States as a family,” he said.
Mateen said his thoughts are with the victims, and also with his three-year-old grandson.
“He destroyed almost the whole family,” he said.
Omar Mateen’s wife, Noor Zahi Salman, went to the family’s apartment late Monday to retrieve some belongings.
In this low-rent apartment complex, brightened by the glittering sun and palm trees, few knew Mateen, except by sight.
“He didn’t talk to anybody, to my knowledge. He was just passing,” said Herbert Johnson, a resident of the Woodlawn Condominium.
Mateen’s psychological state remains a mystery, as was the nature of his connection to homosexuality.
Several witnesses have described him as a young man who used gay dating aps, who had made advances to another man and was a regular at Pulse.
But he was totally unknown at Tattle Tails, one of the few gay bars in the St Lucie and Fort Pierce area, adjoining cities on the Florida’s Atlantic coast.
Patrick, a bartender at Tattle Tails who did not want to give his full name, said he had never seen Mateen in his 10 years as a patron and employee of the bar.
The bar’s owner and other servers didn’t remember having crossed paths with Mateen either, he said.
In fact, Patrick said he could not remember a customer who had said they were Muslim.
The Orlando massacre exposed, tragically for families who were learning for the first time the sexual orientation of their deceased loved ones, that gays are not always accepted in the Hispanic community.
But among Muslims, the taboo is often even more pronounced.
While he expressed solidarity with the victims, Seddique Mateen publicly condemned homosexuality.
At the Islamic Center, Bakht considered the question. “Gay Muslims? I haven’t met any. Maybe they’re hiding.”