The FBI and local police say they’re not sure what motivated a Muslim immigrant from Africa to launch a “random” machete attack on diners at the Nazareth Mediterranean Restaurant last Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, but the owner of the eatery has no doubts about why his business was targeted.
Hany Baransi, a 50-year-old Arab Christian who emigrated to the U.S. in 1983 from Haifa, Israel, re-opened his restaurant Monday and said he would not be intimidated into backing down from his support for Israel.
He flies a small Israeli flag side-by-side with an American flag next to the cash register, which is visible through the glass-door entrance.
The attacker, Mohamed Barry, entered those doors Thursday evening and asked to speak with the owner. Baransi was at home nursing a migraine, but a waitress provided Barry with all the information he needed. He apparently saw the flag and asked where the owner of the restaurant was from. She told him the owner was from Israel. Barry came back 30 minutes later with the machete, hacking patrons and seriously wounded four, one critically.
Owner won’t back stop flying flag
In an interview with the Tower magazine, a publication that reports on Israel and the Middle East, Baransi said he would not cower in the face of Islamic terrorism.
When asked whether he would consider removing the Israeli flag seen from his restaurant’s entryway as a precaution, Baransi did not hesitate to give an unequivocal answer.
“Actually I have another flag, and I am going to get a bigger flag, and I am going to get a Star of David necklace and put it on my chest, and I am going to get a tattoo,” said Baransi, a devout Catholic. “Honest to God, I am not kidding. They don’t scare me. We are Israelis. We are Israelis. We are resilient, we fight back.
“We are used to these bastards,” he added. “We are used to these kinds of attacks, that they hate us just for what we are. They don’t know us, they don’t know anything about us, and they do that. You know, I don’t care if I was an Arab or not, because I am an Israeli, and if you don’t like Israelis you don’t like me.”
Police still tight-lipped about attacker
More than four days after the attack, little is known about Barry, a 30-year-old immigrant from Africa. Neither the FBI nor the Columbus police have released any information on his immigration status, when he came to the U.S. and from what country, under what circumstances he came, or whether he was a legal or illegal resident of this country.
According to reports, Barry led police on a five-mile chase before losing control of his car and careening off the road. He exited the vehicle with his machete and another knife, and allegedly lunged at the officers.
“He yelled, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ and then he attacked them with the machete, and that’s when they shot him and killed him,” Baransi told Tower magazine.
Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said last week she believed diners “were just randomly attacked, spontaneously, without warning.”
Baransi isn’t buying that theory.
“I am a very outspoken Israeli, and I have an Israeli flag in my restaurant,” he said. “When people [from the Arab community] ask me where I am from, I tell them I am Israeli, I am an Israeli Christian Arab, it’s not like I am Palestinian, and then they start arguing and fighting with me.”
The FBI immediately joined in the investigation and is looking into the possibility that the attack was an act of “lone wolf” terrorism or homegrown “extremism.”
Call it what you like, Baransi has seen it before, in Israel, and now in Columbus, Ohio.
“You know, we are Israelis, used to this in our lives, people attacking us and wanting to kill us,” Baransi told Tower. “But Americans – I have young ladies, 19, 20 years old, they probably never heard people yelling and screaming. It was a huge experience for them. And some of them are very devastated. All of us communicate on a daily basis, and some of us, a couple of people, are still having a really hard time.”
As an Israeli Christian Arab, he said he feels “very discriminated against in the way the Arabs look at me.”
Despite this, he said he believes these challenges are not insurmountable.
“I have a Muslim friend who is from Jordan. He is my best friend. We talk politics, we talk religion, and we are completely different people. We can yell at each other and fight,” he said. “But I know I love him, I know he loves me, we would die for each other.”
Yet, there are times when he feels like he doesn’t fit in with anybody.
“Even with the Israelis, I still feel different because of the Jewish community. But then even with the Israeli Arabs. It’s just a weird kind of feeling.
“But I am very happy in my life. I feel OK. I love my country Israel, and I will defend it until the day I die.”