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Vets hold 'eat-in' to help immigrants' vandalized restaurant

Lowell Sun / Julia Malakie

Babylon owner Leyla Al-Zubaydi takes an order from Lily Faulkner, 10, who was eating with her father Cliff Krieger, left, and Jack Mitchell, right, both veterans from Lowell.

A group of veterans held an “eat-in” at an immigrant-owned restaurant to show support for the eatery after a man threw a 20-pound building stone through the front window, frightening the family and raising fears that they were the target of a hate crime.

Some 40 to 50 vets – from World War II, Vietnam, the Korean war and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq -- turned up at the Babylon Restaurant in downtown Lowell, Mass., on Tuesday night.

The Al-Zubaydi family, who came to the U.S. in October 2010 from Uzbekistan, opened Babylon about seven months ago. Like other immigrants, they were simply trying to make their way in their new American home, said Patrick Scanlon, a Vietnam veteran and local coordinator of Veterans for Peace.

A few days after the incident, "I went over and met with them ... and they were scared," said Scanlon, 64, who has been working with Iraqi refugees for the last two years. "It had achieved it's goal of intimidation and fear."

"Something like that happens, it’s almost like a statement from the society, as far as they’re concerned," he added. "And, they don't know if there's other rock throwers out there ... that are looking to harm them."

Police said a New Hampshire man has confessed to the crime and will be charged with breaking glass in a building, a misdemeanor, the Lowell Sun reported. He will not be identified until he is arraigned, and police do not believe it was a hate-motivated crime.

"Unless this gentleman is lying to us -- and I don't believe that he is -- he didn't even know this restaurant was affiliated with people from Iraq," said Lowell police Superintendent Kenneth Lavallee.

The Al-Zubaydi family hails from Uzbekistan, but the father is Iraqi, said Bablyon owner Leyla Al-Zubaydi, 25.

About 50 Iraqi families live in Lowell, said Scanlon. He noted other attacks on Iraqis, including a man who had two rocks thrown through his windows and a woman wearing a head covering being called "terrorist" by a man as she walked home from a supermarket.

Scanlon said he believes the attack on the restaurant was a hate crime, asking why on a commercial street with dozens of shops the attacker chose Babylon.

"Now you're caught, are you going to admit that, 'yeah, it’s a hate crime'?" Scanlon said. "Why did he pick this one, that says 'Middle Eastern Iraqi food’ on it … It's hard to prove a hate crime, but regardless, it was a hate crime."

Leyla Al-Zubaydi said the family also doesn't believe it was a random attack. She said the family was trying to recover after such a scary episode, but the outpouring of support from the veterans renewed their confidence in the local community.

"It was so awesome, you cannot even imagine," Leyla said of the veterans' actions. "It was an honor for us to have them here and to see that support that they gave us."

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