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Muslim Vendor Gets No Credit in Helping to Foil Times Square Bomb Plot

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As the media focuses on the fact that the suspect in the failed Times Square bomb plot is a Pakistani Muslim, what about the man who first noticed the smoke rising from the SUV? A street vendor, a Muslim immigrant from Senegal, says he first sounded the alarm and helped stop the plot. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: As the federal investigation into Saturday’s foiled Times Square car bombing attempt continues, here in New York a different sort of debate is underway. Who was the first person to sound the alarm bell about the smoke rising from the Nissan Pathfinder parked on one of Manhattan’s busiest street corners? Most of the media have focused on two street vendors who are veterans of the Vietnam War.

AMY GOODMAN: But there’s a third vendor who says he was the first person to notice the smoke rising out of the car parked right in front of his table and alert others. Unlike the other vendors on the block, he’s received barely any attention for his efforts. Alioune Niass is an immigrant from the West African nation of Senegal and an observant Muslim.

Democracy Now!'s Anjali Kamat went to Times Square yesterday and filed this report.

    ANJALI KAMAT: They've been hailed as the heroes of Times Square. Two street vendors, both Vietnam War veterans, each say they were the first to alert police to the smoking SUV near the corner of 45th Street and 7th Avenue last Saturday. Lance Orton and Duane Jackson have both been interviewed on network news shows and both received phone calls from President Obama thanking them for their vigilance.

      LANCE ORTON: What was great about it is he didn’t let his secretary call me. He called me. So that made my day. So I’m walking on air. The President and the Mayor in the same day? That makes it all worthwhile.

      DUANE JACKSON: Well, he said, “Thank you very much. I appreciate what you did. The whole country does, and New Yorkers,” and that “Thank you for your diligence in acting so fast and being a good American.”

    ANJALI KAMAT: But a third vendor, a Muslim immigrant from Senegal, says he was really the first person to notice the smoking car and alert other vendors.

      ALIOUNE NIASS: I’m the first person who saw. Look at this. This is my table right here. I don’t know how Lance, he can see this. You see his table over there. You see, he was sitting. He showed the back side. Look at this. This is my table right here. This one right here. Do you see — you see the car? This is my car. That car right here. I don’t know. So, when I come in the morning, they tell me, Lance, he said he saw the car first. Oh, I’m surprised. I’m so mad, believe me. But it doesn’t matter.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Alioune Niass has been at this spot for almost a decade selling framed photographs of celebrities and the New York skyline.

      ALIOUNE NIASS: I feed my family from this table.

    ANJALI KAMAT: I asked him exactly what he saw on Saturday evening.

      ALIOUNE NIASS: So, Saturday, this is my work. You see this. I have a customer. She’s a lady. When I saw her already, so I tried to get the bag. When I tried to get the bag, I took the bag there already. I see the car smoking. I told her, “You see? This car is smoking.” So, I give her the picture, and then I go back to my table, behind the table. I see this car is more smoking. I try to go to the phone to try to make phone call. I told Lance, “This car is smoking. I’m going to call 911.” Lance, he told me, “Don’t call. The cops is right here on the corner. When you go there, he’s there.” So, I tried to go to the corner to the cops to get the cops. Before I go get the cop, the [inaudible] he go there. He went there before I go. So I try — I’m standing here. He tell the cop already. So me and [inaudible] and cop, we come together. And so, like, we’re standing. Cop call 911. Firemen, everybody coming like ten minutes, twenty minutes. They tell us to move down over there. We leave our merchandise here.

      ANJALI KAMAT: And you didn’t see anyone in the car?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: No, I don’t see anyone. That time, my brother, he’s coming to see inside the car, but he told me, “I don’t see nothing. It’s dark.” That’s what they tell me. But I’m not coming to the car. I’m trying to get the cop or make phone call.

      ANJALI KAMAT: And you just saw smoke coming out of the car?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Yeah, mm-hmm.

      ANJALI KAMAT: And you told your friend over there, Lance?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Yeah, I told him. I told Mohammad also, my brother — my cousin, I mean. I told both of them.

    ANJALI KAMAT: When Alioune returned to his spot the next morning, he was briefly questioned by the police.

      ANJALI KAMAT: What did the police ask you when they questioned you?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Yeah, they ask me, “You saw the guy when he come out the car?” I said, “No.” He ask me, “How you see the car?” Like same question you ask me he asked me. I answer. he took my license number and my address and my phone number. So they tell me, “If I need you, I’m going to call you.”

      ANJALI KAMAT: Have you been contacted by the police —-

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Not yet.

      ANJALI KAMAT: —- or anyone? Any law enforcement agencies?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Not yet. Not yet.

      ANJALI KAMAT: You’re from Senegal?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Yeah, I’m from Senegal, yeah.

      ANJALI KAMAT: You’re a Muslim?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: Yeah, I’m Muslim.

    ANJALI KAMAT: I asked Alioune Niass what his reaction was when he found out the suspect in the attempted bombing is a Muslim American born in Pakistan.

      ALIOUNE NIASS: That’s not religion, because the Islam religion is not terrorist. Because if I know this guy is Muslim, he do that, if I know that, I’m going to catch him before he run away.

      ANJALI KAMAT: How do you think Muslims are generally perceived in New York by police, by law enforcement, when it comes to investigations into terrorism cases?

      ALIOUNE NIASS: If one person is bad, they going to say everybody for this religion. That is, I think, wrong.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Alioune is not waiting for a call from the President, but as one of the first people to notice and speak out about the smoke rising from the SUV, he does want some recognition that a Muslim immigrant from Senegal might also be counted among the eyes and ears of New York City.

AMY GOODMAN: That report by Democracy Now!’s Anjali Kamat from Times Square.

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