About 500 people packed the mosque in Selden Friday where a suspected al-Qaida terrorist from Patchogue used to pray, while the mosque's president made a plea to the congregation to come forward with any information members may have about Bryant Vinas.
"We are in the spotlight, which is not good news," Nayyar Imam told the congregants at the Islamic Association of Long Island during its 1:30 p.m. prayer as they knelt on rugs that extended outside and even onto a small part of the parking lot.
"If anyone has information about this individual please come forward and let us know so we can inform the authorities," said Imam, a pharmacist originally from Pakistan.
Imam stressed that Vinas, 26, was not a registered member of the mosque, and like a number of people simply came on his own to pray - usually about four times a week. Practicing Muslims pray five times daily, ranging from a half-hour before sunrise to two hours after sunset. Imam said Vinas attended the mosque for about a year and a half, and then vanished about two years ago.
He described Vinas - the son of South American immigrants - as a loner at the mosque, where most of the faithful have roots in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh or the Middle East. Vinas did not get involved in religion classes, sports or other activities, Imam said.
Other members of the mosque said they had no idea who Vinas was, and that they were horrified by his association with their place of worship.
"He's a traitor first of all. He's fighting against his own people," said Mohammad Akhtar, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook University and a longtime member of the mosque. "We are peaceful people."
Another congregant, Iqbal Syed, a dentist in Patchogue, said, "It's good he got caught."
Earlier in the day, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy - surrounded by Imam and other members of Levy's Muslim-American advisory board - urged the public not to stereotype Muslims.
"This individual apprehended by the police was an aberration, he was a rare exception, and we want to ensure that the public doesn't get the perception that this is the norm," Levy said.
He added that he has visited the mosque before, and that "there's a love of country there, a love of America that in large part comes from the immigrant experience."
Imam said, "This is the last thing we want happening to us as a mosque and as a community. One bad apple can just bring a bad name to the whole community."