9/11 Brings A Return Of Vandalism For Family

The Hussein family's cars and property have been vandalized several times, as Samira Hussein shows in photographs of incidents from the 1990s.
The Hussein family's cars and property have been vandalized several times, as Samira Hussein shows in photographs of incidents from the 1990s. (By Katherine Shaver -- The Washington Post)
By Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 12, 2007

For Samira Hussein and her family, the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks began at 6:45 a.m. yesterday when they noticed that six tires on their Astrovan and Lincoln Continental had been slashed outside their Gaithersburg home.

Like many Americans, Hussein said, they knew the anniversary would bring sad memories. As Muslims of Palestinian descent, she said, they were frightened but not surprised that they would be targeted on such a day.

"For most people, when you say Sept. 11, they don't think of Muslim Americans" as victims, said Hussein, 52.

Gaithersburg police are investigating the incident as a hate crime based on the Husseins' beliefs that they were targeted because of their religion, Sgt. Rudy Wagner said. Police had no suspects, and no similar incidents were reported in the city yesterday, he said.

It was also the only suspected hate crime or discriminatory act reported yesterday to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, spokeswoman Amina Rubin said. She said that the Washington-based organization usually hears of a spike in such incidents after terrorist attacks overseas but not on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Even so, Hussein said, the punctured tires brought back painful memories from the 1990s, beginning shortly after she and her husband, Mohammad Hussein, moved from Takoma Park to Gaithersburg to raise their four children. She said that the family never had problems in Takoma Park, where they lived for seven years. Nor did anyone bother them when they lived in Miami.

In 1994, someone put glue on the hubcaps, door handles and locks of their Chevy Impala. Three years later, the car's leather seats and tires were slashed, a swastika was scratched onto the hood and the word "pig" was etched on a window. At the same time, someone scratched "Go home" onto the trunk of their Chevy Caprice and slashed the seats, she said.

During the same period, the Husseins often found garbage thrown over their back fence, and someone threw eggs at, and later smashed in, their glass back door, Hussein said.

They found dead birds near their home and notes with ethnic slurs taped to their door. A former neighbor was ordered to serve five days in jail and two years of probation in 1998 after being convicted of vandalizing the Husseins' cars, according to news accounts. That person is not a suspect in the latest slashings, Wagner said.

Although 10 years have passed since their cars were last targeted, Hussein said, she wasn't surprised by the latest attack.

"I hate to say it's to be expected," she said, "but we've lived in fear all these years."

Hussein, a family service worker for Montgomery County schools, said she has worked to counteract bias, particularly among children who often see negative images of Muslims and Arabs in the news. In addition to speaking at libraries and schools about Islam and Arab American culture, Hussein also teaches cultural sensitivity during Montgomery's training sessions for new teachers.

A $2,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest or indictment in yesterday's incident, Wagner said. Anyone with information can call police at 301-330-4471.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company