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Muslim group CAIR moves Arlington banquet over bomb, death threats

Alex Brandon
The Associated Press File
Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speaks during a 2017 news conference in Washington D.C. The national Muslim civil rights group said Thursday that it's moving its annual banquet out of an Arlington hotel that received bomb and death threats possibly linked to the group's concern for Palestinians caught in the Israel-Hamas war. Awad, who is Palestinian American, condemned the threats received by the organization and hotel staff.

The event was held at the same location for a decade, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said.

ARLINGTON — A national Muslim civil rights group said Thursday it is moving its annual banquet out of a Virginia hotel that received bomb and death threats possibly linked to the group's concern for Palestinians caught in the Israel-Hamas war.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations canceled plans to hold its 29th annual banquet on Saturday at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

“In recent days, according to the Marriott, anonymous callers have threatened to plant bombs in the hotel’s parking garage, kill specific hotel staff in their homes, and storm the hotel in a repeat of the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol if the events moved forward,” CAIR said in a statement.

The group had used the hotel for a decade, the statement said. But it will now move the banquet to an undisclosed location with heightened security.

Arlington police said in an email that the department was investigating a Thursday morning report from the hotel that it received anonymous phone calls, “some referencing threats to bomb,” regarding the CAIR event. Emails seeking comment from the FBI, which CAIR said also is investigating, and the Marriott hotel chain were not immediately answered late Thursday night.

A separate banquet planned for Oct. 28 in Maryland is being canceled and will be merged with Saturday's event, CAIR said. Another event by a pro-Palestinian group was canceled in Houston, that one by the Hilton hotel leaders.

The threats to the Marriott in Virginia came after CAIR updated banquet programming to focus on human rights issues for Palestinians. The group has started an online campaign urging members of Congress to promote a ceasefire in Gaza.

“We strongly condemn the extreme and disgusting threats against our organization, the Marriott hotel and its staff," CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad, who is Palestinian American, said in a statement. “We will not allow the threats of anti-Palestinian racists and anti-Muslim bigots who seek to dehumanize the Palestinian people and silence American Muslims to stop us from pursuing justice for all.”

Hamas militants from the blockaded Gaza Strip stormed into nearby Israeli towns on Oct. 7, which coincided with a major Jewish holiday. The attack killed hundreds of civilians. Since then, Israel has launched airstrikes on Gaza, destroying entire neighborhoods and killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

In Houston, the Hilton Houston Post Oak by the Galleria, citing unspecified safety concerns, canceled a conference scheduled for Oct. 27-29 by the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

The USCPR said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter, that by the hotel was “capitulating to external pressure from hate groups,” and executive director Ahmad Abuznaid called the cancellation “clearly an act of ethnic, racial and religious discrimination.”

The Hilton said in a statement Friday that it does not endorse the positions of other groups and organizations and is concerned about the safety of its staff and guests.

“Given escalating security concerns in the current environment, the hotel has determined that it cannot serve as the venue for this event because of the potential risks,” the statement said.

Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on X praised the hotel’s decision and said the event would be hosted by “Hamas supporters.”

“Texas has no room for hate and antisemitism like that supported by Hamas. No location in Texas should host or sponsor USCPR,” Abbott wrote.

USCPR, on its website, states it works to end "U.S. complicity" in Israeli violence against Palestinians and seeks freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians.

Abuznaid called Abbott’s statement “alarming” and said it puts the organization’s staff and supporters at risk.

“The governor’s rhetoric, and actions by the hotel echo and inflame the sharp increase in hate incidents that are targeting Arabs, rhetoric that led to the murder of 6-year-old Wadie Al-Fayoume,” Abuznaid said on X.

Al-Fayoume is a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who Illinois authorities allege was stabbed 26 times in the October attack by his landlord in response to escalating right-wing rhetoric in the Israel-Hamas war.

The boy’s mother was also badly hurt in the attack.

There have been concerns the war will inspire violence in the U.S. Last week, police in major cities increased patrols, authorities put up fencing around the U.S. Capitol and some schools closed. But law enforcement officials stressed there were no credible threats in the U.S.

Updated: October 20, 2023 at 3:26 PM EDT
Added additional information about a Texas event.