- The Washington Times - Monday, September 18, 2000

The FBI will investigate death threats against a Maryland man who is soon to publish a book on Islamic terrorism and the plight of black slaves held by white Arabs in his native Mauritania.
Mohammed Nacir Athie, a former diplomat from the racially divided West African nation, defected to the United States in 1989 to escape an ethnic pogrom in which tens of thousands of blacks were driven out of the country to Senegal and other neighboring nations.
In 1995, Mr. Athie estimates, there were about 300,000 slaves in Mauritania. Most, he said, are domestic workers for Arab families. Some are sold to masters in nearby nations such as Libya.
Though slavery has been outlawed in Mauritania, it continues, with trade in human chattel taking place out of the public eye among friends, families and business associates.
A recent State Department report says: "Mauritanians continue to suffer the effects and consequences of the practice of slavery over generations and of caste distinctions including the traditional existence of a slave caste in both Moor and Southern communities."
Mr. Athie, 49, has become an American citizen and resides with his wife and three school-age children in suburban Maryland.
"This death threat is not a good omen," he says.
"I just hope I will not be forced to live a life of seclusion," he says, citing the experience of British author Salman Rushdie, who lived in safe houses for years after Iranian extremists offered a reward for his death.
Mr. Athie, who is black, has been active in working to eliminate slavery. The practice, he says, continues in his homeland and throughout parts of North Africa despite being officially outlawed. He serves as executive director of the Washington-based International Coalition Against Chattel Slavery.
About a month ago, he began receiving crank calls while preparing to publish a book titled "Second Guess," an account of Islamic terrorism and slavery told through the eyes of a fictional Muslim-Jewish couple from Washington.
Though the book mixes fiction with fact, Mr. Athie said, the events are taken from real life. They range from the ongoing Muslim revolt in the southern Philippines to the hijacking of an Indian Airlines airliner by Islamic militants from Kashmir in December.
With the book due to be published on the Internet next month and in paperback in January, he received a telephoned death threat a week ago.
"I will bomb you; you know what I'm talking about," warned the anonymous caller, who in Arabic-accented English also insulted Mr. Athie with a profane racial epithet.
Mr. Athie turned to the FBI and was told to call his local police, which he did. Two Prince George's County police officers visited his house, but said there was little they could do. After inquiries by this newspaper, the FBI agreed to investigate his complaints.
"This could very well be a terrorist threat," said FBI spokeswoman Heather Hobson. She said the FBI employee who initially told Mr. Athie to call local police "must have made a mistake."
"I have no doubt the threats are related to the book," Mr. Athie said. "I don't know how they found out about it. I don't want to be a hero, but there is a real problem with Muslim society that needs to be addressed."
His book "is not attacking Islam. It is attacking bad Muslims who practice terrorism or slavery… . Race is the issue, not religion." Most blacks in Mauritania are Muslims, he said.
Mr. Athie came to Washington in 1989 as a diplomat, and two months later was asked to return to the Islamic republic. He declined, he said, because there was "a huge ethnic cleansing against black Muslim Mauritanians."
Between 1989 and 1991, Mauritania expelled tens of thousands of mostly black Mauritanians and others fled in fear, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.
The situation in Mauritania "is not as bad as a decade ago," said Amnesty spokesman Alistair Hodgett, but the Mauritanian government is not investigating crimes committed in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Mauritanian Embassy in Washington declined to comment.

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