September 30, 2005

Muslim drops bid for NY Fire chaplain over remarks

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An imam due to be sworn in as a New
York Fire Department chaplain dropped his bid for the position
on Friday after being quoted as saying he doubted al Qaeda
hijackers were solely responsible for toppling the World Trade
Center on September 11, 2001.

Imam Intikab Habib, 30, told a New York newspaper in an
interview published on Friday that a broader conspiracy may
have led to the September 11 destruction of the twin towers
after two hijacked planes crashed into them, setting them
ablaze and killing 2,749 people, including 343 firefighters.

Habib had been due to be sworn in on Friday when he was
quoted in Newsday as saying he doubted the U.S. government's
version of the towers' collapse.

"I've heard professionals say that nowhere ever in history
did a steel building come down with fire alone," he told
Newsday. "Was it 19 hijackers who pulled it down, or was it a

Habib told a local TV station on Friday that stepping aside
was "the right thing to do for the department. I was given the
chance of resigning or not. I did not want to, but it was best
for the department."

Fire Department chief Nicholas Scoppetta said in a
statement that based on Habib's comments he "would have been
unable to effectively serve in the role he was appointed to."

In the interview, Habib offered no theories on who else
might have been involved. He called the attacks tragic and said
he did not expect to raise his doubts with firefighters.

The newspaper said Habib, a native of Guyana who was
educated in Saudi Arabia, was answering a question about
whether he thought firefighters would accept a chaplain with
connections to Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers
involved in the September 11 attacks were Saudi nationals.

"Every single firefighter is outraged by the comments made
by the imam," firefighters' union chief Stephen Cassidy said at
a news conference. "Everybody is entitled to their opinion but
not when you are hired as a religious leader of the New York
City Fire Department."