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Arab-American community 'keeping its head down'

By Suhasini Haidar

NEW YORK (CNN) -- By Friday, many of the city's schools, offices and businesses had reopened. But Rabyaah Al-Thaibani says her family isn't opening its grocery store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn for now.

Rabyaah says her uncle was threatened with violence by one of his suppliers on Thursday. The supplier was angered by Tuesday's terrorist strikes, suspected to have been carried out by people of Arabic origin.

"He said he would kill my uncle and the whole family if we didn't watch out," Rabyaah says. "We are all pretty terrified to walk out right now."

Hussein Ibish, communications director for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, says the Arab-American community "is keeping its head down for the moment."

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"People from the community just don't want to be conspicuous right now."

Being inconspicuous for most members of the community means staying home, not going to work, not even going out to shop.

But Rabyaah does come out, to volunteer at the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn, where she works as a counselor.

Since Tuesday, the support center has received hundreds of calls from Arab-Americans who have been threatened by people who blame the community for the attacks. The center also has documented reports of physical assault in the Atlantic Avenue area, which has a large population of Americans from Yemen, Lebanon and other Arab nations.

Brooklyn police say they have made a note of several complaints and are doing their best to keep Arab-Americans safe.

Ibish says he has lost count of the number of death threats and other hate messages he has received personally since Tuesday. Local police now guard his office and walk him to and from work every day.

Ibish says that is heartening -- and he also is grateful to policemen in Illinois, who stopped an angry mob from attacking a mosque in Bridgefield, Illinois, on Wednesday night.

It's a problem that prompted President Bush to make a strong statement during a conference call with New York Gov. George Pataki and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

"Our nation must be mindful that there are thousands of Arab-Americans who live in New York City," he said, "who love their flag just as much as the three of us do, and we must be mindful that as we seek to win the war that we treat Arab-Americans and Muslims with the respect they deserve."

It's a message that 17-year-old Roula Abu Hassan says her teacher at school missed today. She says her health teacher told her class at a high school in Brooklyn that "Palestinian children all want to become terrorists."

Both Roula and her mother Saud Abu Hassan, who moved to the United States from the Palestinian territories, are visibly upset by the statement and want the teacher to apologize.

And as the U.S. Justice Department releases the name of 19 suspected hijackers, all of whom are Muslims with Middle Eastern backgrounds, members of the community say they worry that attacks against anyone bearing similar names may now increase.

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