Chaldean Assyrians Receive Threats After Drug Arrests
EL CAJON, California (AP) -- Members of an Iraqi immigrant community have been targeted with threatening phone calls and questions about their U.S. patriotism after a federal takedown of a drug trafficking ring operating from an Iraqi social club in a working-class city east of San Diego, officials said Wednesday.
El Cajon Police Chief Pat Sprecco said he was concerned about the anger and unfair condemnation directed at Iraqis because of the arrests of 60 people involved in the ring, whose leaders include an Iraqi Christian living in El Cajon.
Sprecco called the threats "unfair criticism on people who had no part of the investigation" and urged the public not to blame an entire community.
"We weren't targeting a culture," he said. "We were targeting a criminal organization."
Former California state Sen. Wadie Deddeh said he was among those who has been insulted since last week's announcement of the arrests.
Deddeh said a woman coming out of Mass on Sunday told him he should not brag about being Chaldean.
Deddeh also was elected to the California Assembly in 1966 and is believed to be the first Iraqi Chaldean to serve in public office in the United States. He was a congressman from 1983 to 1993.
He said he recognizes only four of the 30 suspects who have been identified as being Chaldeans, and he will not have "one or two punks" ruin his community's name.
About 40,000 Chaldeans live in El Cajon, home to the second largest such community in the U.S. after Detroit. Many escaped persecution by al-Qaida and other extremists in Iraq. Chaldeans are the ethnic descendants of Assyrians, who converted to Christianity in the 1st century A.D., six centuries before the coming of Islam.
"I brag of being a Chaldean," Deddeh said. "I'm proud of being a Chaldean and I will say that until the day I die."
Police say they have a strong relationship with the community in helping combat crime.
Sprecco and federal officials said Thursday that they had busted the ring that was getting its drugs from the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful drug gang, and shipping them to Detroit. The El Cajon ring also was caught selling assault rifles, grenades and homemade explosives in the area.
Police say at least some of those arrested are suspected of being affiliated with the Detroit-based Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate.
The investigation is ongoing and there could be more arrests, Sprecco said.
Officials said neighbors and spouses of some club members complained for years about the establishment's criminal activity, which has included attempted murder, sales of methamphetamine and marijuana, gambling and illegal firearms sales.
Authorities seized 18 pounds of methamphetamine, narcotics, cocaine and other drugs; more than 3,500 pounds of marijuana; $630,000 in cash; four explosive devices; and more than 30 guns, including assault rifles.
By Julie Watson