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Capture Elicits Joy, Hurt Pride

Asked what should be done with the captured Saddam

Hussein, an Iraqi-born leader of a mosque in Queens said the kindest thing

would be a public hanging.

"If you put him in the streets [of Baghdad] now, in a little while you

would find him in pieces," said Fadhel Al-Sahlani, the imam, or spiritual

leader, of the Al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation mosque off the Van Wyck

Expressway in Jamaica.

"The Iraqi people would like to see him hung in Baghdad, at the least,"

added Al-Sahlani, who fled to New York from Iraq in 1989, leaving behind a

brother who spent 25 years in prison under Hussein.

Opinions in the local Muslim community varied yesterday on what should be

done with Hussein. The judgment depended largely on the national origin of the

person interviewed. For instance, one woman of Palestinian descent said that

Hussein, despite his many faults, was a hero to many people in her community.

But those who lived in or around Iraq - and knew his brutality firsthand -

were harsh in the judgment of the deposed dictator. They said Hussein had

opened many wounds in that part of the world. And they hope those wounds can

now be healed.

Dr. Qais Al-Awqati is an Iraqi-born physician and professor at Columbia

College of Physicians and Surgeons, whose brother-in-law, Abdullah Khayat, a

journalist, was hanged on Hussein's orders in 1972.

Al-Awqati said he is personally against the death penalty and would like to

see a South Africa-like truth commission that would examine all the crimes

committed by Hussein so that people could at last begin to feel some closure.

"I don't think there's a family that hasn't suffered under him. There have

been so many purges, even of his own people," said Al-Awqati, saying Hussein

frequently turned against his associates and cronies. A public trial of

Hussein, even though it could take a very long time, will be emotionally

satisfying to most Iraqis, the doctor said.

Asked for his thoughts, Shahram Hashemi, who lived in Iran when Hussein was

using chemical weapons against that neighboring country in the 1980s, said he

was ecstatic that the ex-dictator was captured and hopes Iraq and Iran can live

in peace in the future.

"I was a young teenager at that time and I spent many nights in the

basement because of bombardments," said Hashemi, a senior majoring in finance

at Adelphi University's Honors College in Garden City. Hashemi, 29, sadly

recalled visiting different neighborhoods in Iran and seeing homes draped in

black flags commemorating those killed by Hussein's bombings.

As to whether Hussein should be executed, Hashemi said, "I should say I'm

against the death penalty. Please don't ask me that."

Linda Sarsour, who is American-born and of Palestinian descent, said many

Palestinians viewed Hussein as a hero because he steadfastly supported

Palestinians in their struggle against Israel. She and other Palestinian New

Yorkers felt humiliated by the way Hussein was caught and shown, disheveled and

pathetic-looking, on international television, Sarsour said.

"I think he's done a lot of things he shouldn't have done, but I was hurt.

My Arab pride was hurt," said Sarsour, 23, of Bensonhurst. "Palestinians are

under so much oppression and no other Arab country ever helped them."

Yesterday, city officials said the reaction to the dictator's capture was

generally positive among New Yorkers from Arab or Muslim countries.

"As a matter of fact," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said at news

conference on public safety in the wake of the capture, "we hear that people in

certain communities we are concerned about, and that we listen to, are happy

that it happened, to a certain extent. Others are somewhat dismayed as to how

he gave up, that there wasn't a fight, that there wasn't an ultimate jihad at

the end. But the fact that he was captured in the first place was cheered."

Still, Fahim Sadat, a Queens College student working for a private company

as an emergency medical technician, said he had questions about whether the

United States was right in invading Iraq. But the removal of Hussein benefits

the Muslim world, said Sadat, who was born in Afghanistan.

"I think it's a good thing they caught him because he's a criminal," said

Sadat, 22, who lives in Flushing.

Staff Writer Glenn Thrush contributed to this story.

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