Muslim Owned Store Fends Off Rumors

There is a troubling email that's going around Montgomery. It contains a lot of unproven information and it appears to be gaining momentum. The note involves a Montgomery Mall clothing store owned by Islamic Arabs.

It claims a security guard saw the workers at the Echoes of Italy clothing store celebrating when the terrorist attacks happened. It goes on to claim that the FBI is investigating the store, and it implies money from the store may go to Osama bin Laden.

WSFA looked into this and what we've discovered shows the danger of not getting both sides of the story. Hussein Gouda and his American born wife have worked two and a half years to build their menswear store, Echoes of Italy. Now their effort may be in jeopardy.

Gouda says he can't imagine why anyone would pass rumors about his store. "Everybody lived here at least for five years, so, I mean, this is like a second home. I have had fun, I am happy before all this stuff happened," he said.

But, two people working nearby say Gouda's employees appeared to be very happy after hearing radio reports of the terror attacks. Former U.S. Marine John Parker works less than 20 feet from their front door, and he says he was disturbed by what he saw.

"They were laughing in conversation and loud and hugging and hand clapping. They were applauding. I'm not saying they were applauding what was going on. It might have been a case of it was such a great situation of jokes going on they were overcome with laughter, but it was very inappropriate in my opinion," Parker explained.

Melodee Veracruz works across the hall from Echoes of Italy and has a similar impression. "They were just smiling from ear to ear about the whole thing," she says. Veracruz says she told one of Gouda's employees the mall was closing, and got an unexpected reaction.

"The only thing he said after that is, ok, we're going to go home and party now. Now, what he meant by that I'm not really sure, if he was going to go home and party because the mall was closing or because of all this, but, I mean, I don't think it was appropriate," she explained.

But Gouda and his wife vehemently deny those claims, saying their Islamic beliefs forbid them from encouraging the taking of innocent lives. Mr. Gouda is especially upset. "This is against our religion. This is against everybody's religion. Nobody agrees with what happened," he says.

But the dispute has grown so quickly, people are threatening in emails to boycott Gouda's store. Melanie Gouda is concerned about the trend. "If it continues to escalate, who's to say the mosque down the road won't have rocks thrown thru it or the stuff happening in the larger cities," she says.

WSFA also checked out the claim the FBI is investigating the store. Montgomery based agents, following FBI policy, won't confirm if they are investigating anything. But WSFA's Chris Holmes was told, and this is a direct quote, "There is nothing to indicate the store's owner works on the other side of the fence."

Agents have advised Mr. Gouda he might consider filing a civil case, and he says if he finds out who wrote the email, he may sue them.

Hussein Gouda says since the rumors started, Echoes of Italy has lost 25 to 30 percent of its business. He says he's also asking Mayor Bobby Bright for whatever help he can lend.