Mark Mueller, NJ, December 22, 2015
In the weeks since Donald Trump ignited a firestorm by claiming “thousands and thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City cheered the fall of the twin towers on 9/11, elected officials, religious leaders and a former state attorney general denied the existence of celebrations in the city that day.
Media outlets, after scouring archived news stories and video footage, could not find verified accounts of Jersey City Muslims rejoicing.
But in a new examination by NJ Advance Media, a police officer who worked on 9/11 and residents on the outskirts of Journal Square say they witnessed small pockets of people celebrating before the groups dispersed or were broken up by authorities.
The NJ Advance Media inquiry, encompassing more than two dozen interviews conducted since Nov. 25, found Trump’s broad assertion that thousands of people cheered to be baseless. At the same time, the inquiry provides the first credible indication of at least two modest celebrations, as described by on-the-record sources who say they witnessed the behavior.
“When I saw they were happy, I was pissed,” said Ron Knight, 56, a Tonnele Avenue resident who said he heard cries of “Allahu Akbar” as he shouldered his way through a crowd of 15 to 20 people on John F. Kennedy Boulevard that morning.
Collectively, the gatherings amounted to dozens of people at the two locations, the witnesses said. Callers also flooded the 911 system with accounts of jubilant Muslims on a rooftop at a third location, three police officers said, but a reporter was unable to find witnesses there 14 years later.
Among the news organization’s findings:
• A retired police captain, Peter Gallagher, said he cleared a rooftop celebration of 20 to 30 people at 6 Tonnele Ave., a four-story apartment building with an unobstructed view of Lower Manhattan, in the hours after the second tower fell.
“Some men were dancing, some held kids on their shoulders,” said Gallagher, then a sergeant. “The women were shouting in Arabic and keening in the high-pitched wail of Arabic fashion. They were told to go back to their apartments since a crowd of non-Muslims was gathering on the sidewalk below and we feared for their safety.”
• Knight was one of two Tonnele Avenue residents who said they witnessed a crowd celebrating on John F. Kennedy Boulevard not far from Masjid Al-Salam, the mosque where Omar Abdel-Rahman, known as the “blind sheikh,” preached before the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Carlos Ferran, 60, who lives in the same building as Knight, said he was on his way to a liquor store to buy beer when he came across the gathering on the sidewalk.
“Some of them had their hands in the air,” Ferran said. “They were happy.”
• Numerous people called police to report an exultant crowd on the roof of 2801 John F. Kennedy Blvd., a distinctive, five-story apartment building at the intersection of Sip Avenue, said retired officer Arthur Teeter, who worked in the radio room at police headquarters on Sept. 11.
Teeter, the officer who worked in the radio room, said the address was one of several where 911 callers cited rooftop celebrations.
“There were enough calls that it was disturbing,” he said. “That’s the only word I can use.”
• Three additional officers who remain on the Jersey City force said they witnessed small groups of Muslim celebrants on Sept. 11, but they would not speak for attribution, citing a department policy that prohibits media interviews.
The officers, including a high-ranking official, said their reluctance to speak publicly also stemmed from concern they would run afoul of Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who has repeatedly said celebrations did not take place.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” the ranking officer said. “In the end, police officers are professionals, so we just observed that stuff and sucked it up.”
Eleven other officers claimed to have been witnesses to celebrations in postings on Facebook after Trump resurrected the issue, but they either declined to speak for attribution or did not return calls seeking comment.