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Tension escalates at meeting on proposed mosque in Spotsylvania

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A meeting Tuesday evening to discuss a proposed Islamic mosque in Spotsylvania County quickly turned combative, with one man proclaiming, “Every Muslim is a terrorist.”

Samer Shalaby, a trustee of the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, began what was advertised as a “community meeting” with a moment of silence for the victims of Friday’s terrorist attack in Paris. After the moment, a man said, “Amen and thank you!” and another person proclaimed “praise God!”

Shalaby then started a presentation on the Islamic Center’s plan to build an 8,000-square-foot mosque at the corner of Old Plank Road and Andora Drive. The mosque would move there from its current location on Harrison Road, across State Route 3 from Harrison Crossing.

An opponent of the Islamic Center in Fredericksburg's proposed expansion speaks during a meeting on Nov. 17, 2015.

A member of the audience raises concerns about plans to build a mosque at the corner of Andora Drive and Old Plank Road. Video taken on Nov. 17, 2015.

But it didn’t take long before Shalaby was interrupted by a man who said, “Nobody, nobody, nobody wants your evil cult.”

Some people in the packed room at the Chancellor Community Center—including opponents of the project—expressed disagreement, while others clapped.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure this does not happen because you are terrorists,” the man continued. “Every one of you are terrorists.”

“How do you come up with that?” Shalaby replied.

Shortly thereafter, a uniformed sheriff’s deputy in attendance said he would stop the meeting “if this gets to a violent point.” He noted that he was greatly outnumbered.

“Can we at least please keep it civil for me and my wife and my three children?” the deputy said.

Supervisor Timothy McLaughlin, whose Chancellor District includes the proposed mosque site next to the Ashleigh Park subdivision, asked the crowd to let Shalaby give his presentation before posing questions.

That didn’t happen, and the tension continued to escalate—with shouting matches and expletives—until the deputy waved his arms and called off the meeting.

“Listen to me, it’s done,” the deputy said. The attendees complied with his order to exit the building.

One of the last exchanges happened when a man shouted, “If you want to do your thing, go to Fairfax!”

“Well guess what, we’re already here,” Shalaby replied. “And guess what, we are not going anywhere.”

He said the Islamic Center has been in the Fredericksburg area for nearly three decades and at its current location since 2000.

One mosque member pleaded with the audience to stop arguing, saying “there’s enough fighting in the world.”

“We’re all Americans first,” she said.

Several attendees attempted to steer the discussion to less emotionally charged issues such as the traffic the project would generate.

McLaughlin also said traffic was the main issue. “The roads here cannot handle a commercial facility,” he said.

The mosque would have 200 parking spaces and an entrance on Andora Drive, Shalaby said. The lack of parking at the existing facility is why the Islamic Center’s trustees want to move to the 10-acre site, which they purchased in 2012 for $250,000.

Shalaby said the country guarantees freedom of religion, but another man said that doesn’t give him the right to build a mosque wherever he pleases.

The mosque must receive a special-use permit, which requires at least two public hearings—first in front of the Planning Commission, then the Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to the supervisors, who have the final vote. No hearings have been scheduled, because the mosque trustees have not submitted a formal proposal to the county.

Sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Pearce said there were two plainclothes law enforcement officers at the community meeting, in addition to the uniformed deputy. And he said two other deputies were on patrol nearby.

“It did start deteriorating into an area where we felt like it was no longer productive,” Pearce said of the meeting. “We needed to stop it, and we did and everybody respected that.”

McLaughlin mentioned the possibility of having another meeting at Riverbend High School’s auditorium to accommodate more people. Some residents had to stand outside and watch Tuesday’s meeting from an open window at the Chancellor Community Center, which has a capacity of just 171 people.

​Jeff Branscome: 540.374-5402 

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