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New york fire department chaplain doubts 911 official story { October 1 2005 }

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Anguished Imam resigns as FDNY chaplain


October 1, 2005

Expressing anguish that his public doubts about who was behind the Sept. 11 terror attacks "had opened wounds for people," the Fire Department's new Muslim chaplain resigned Friday, shortly before he was to be officially sworn in.

"It was the right thing to do for the department," said Imam Intikab Habib, 30, of Ozone Park, who quit the $18,000-a-year post after meeting with fire officials. In that meeting, he confirmed remarks made to Newsday Thursday expressing doubts that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible for the attacks.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta announced Habib's resignation at a news conference an hour before the swearing-in.

"It became clear to him that he would have difficulty functioning as a Fire Department chaplain," Scoppetta said. "And then I understand the head of the Islamic Society of the Fire Department ... told him they were withdrawing their support."

In an interview Thursday, Habib, who moved to New York in 2000 to teach at an Islamic school in Ozone Park, said he didn't know who was responsible for the downing of the Twin Towers.

"There are so many conflicting reports about it," said the Guyana native, who studied Saudi Arabia. "I don't believe it was 19 ... hijackers who did those attacks.

"I've heard professionals say that nowhere ever in history did a steel building come down with fire alone. It takes two or three weeks to demolish a building like that. But it was pulled down in a couple of hours. Was it 19 hijackers who brought it down, or was it a conspiracy?"

Scoppetta said it was disturbing that anyone would harbor such views given the evidence about the attack. "I especially have difficulty reconciling those views with a person serving in the NYC fire department."

The remarks provoked fury among firefighters at a swearing-in for new officers.

"He has no place in the New York Fire Department," said retired firefighter Jack Duggan of Rockland County. "I lost too many friends that day to listen to that rubbish."

"For a supposedly educated man, that's an incredibly ignorant statement," said George Baade of Ladder 14 in East Harlem. "His loyalty obviously doesn't lie with us, or with the United States."

Scoppetta said Habib and several other clerics were recommended by the Islamic Society. The society represents more than 100 Muslim fire personnel.

"He was vetted, there was a background check and a fingerprint check, and there was nothing negative that came up," he said. "We don't usually consider political views. This is an unusual situation."

A spokesman for the Islamic Society said the group took responsibility for recommending Habib without probing his opinions.

"We spoke with him and none of us thought those were his ideas of Sept. 11," said retired Fire Marshal Kevin James, a past president of the group. "He is entitled to his views, but it would not be appropriate for him to be a chaplain for the FDNY."

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Stephen Cassidy called for a public apology from Scoppetta "for the grief incurred" by the incident.

But department spokesman Frank Gribbon said: "The issue is over. What was required here was to act, which is what we did."

For his part, Habib said Friday that he had answered questions put to him by a reporter honestly, never imagining that his answers would cause pain.

"I didn't know this could open wounds for people or that anyone would think I was insensitive," he said.

Habib also said that as a devout Muslim, it was easier for him to entertain doubts about the identities of those behind the carnage. "Me not knowing who did it saved my guilt," he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg applauded Habib's resignation.

"This is not a person who should be representing a department that was devastated on Sept. 11, answering their spiritual needs," he said.

Asked about the selection process, Bloomberg said, "If there are questions about that to be raised, you may rest assured, I will be raising them."

Staff writers William Murphy and Dan Janison contributed to this story.
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.

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