GARWOOD — A photo of a Garwood home flying a black flag with an Islamic message has gone viral on Twitter after it was posted Tuesday morning, with commenters expressing concern the resident supports the ISIS jihadist group, with whom the flag is sometimes associated.
The Winslow Place resident, Mark Dunaway, 44, told NJ.com he has flown the flag for at least 10 years during Ramadan and on Fridays when he goes to mosque without issue, until the photo of his home was posted on Twitter by @Marc_Leibowitz.
"I understand now that people turn on CNN and see the flag associated with jihad, but that's not the intention of that flag at all," Dunaway said. "It says 'There is only one god, Allah, and the prophet Muhammad is his messenger.' It's not meant to be a symbol of hate. Islam is all about unity and peace. I am not a part of any group like that, and I'm not anti-American. I love my country, but I am a Muslim."
Dunaway said when Garwood police spoke to him Tuesday, he had no idea a photo of his home was on Twitter and he removed the flag voluntarily given the public concern.
The Twitter user who posted the photo, @Marc_Leibowitz, wrote "Scary! Seen this morning at 117 Winslow Place Garwood, New Jersey: #ISIS #Turkey #Terrorism #Jihad @DHSgov @FBI"
The photo has been retweeted more than 400 times as of Wednesday evening and has garnered at least 50 comments.
"Jihadists are now in Garwood," wrote one commenter on the photo.
Dunaway has since replaced the flag with a San Diego Chargers flag, alongside a red Islamic flag, which was flying next to the black flag on Tuesday.
"Tomorrow it might be an L.A. Kings flag," Dunaway said, adding that he often rotates them. "Every Muslim uses that black flag. You'll find it in any mosque in world. I am an American citizen and I love my country, but I am also a Muslim and I use that flag to say I’m a Muslim."
Dunaway added that he has never had any of his Garwood neighbors question the flag previously.
"They see me in my kufi," Dunaway said. "They know me. Garwood is a very quiet, safe town."
"He's totally harmless," said Dunaway's neighbor Diane Figueiredo. "He goes to work every day. He never bothers anyone. He keeps to himself."
Figueiredo said the flag has never given her cause for concern.
"He's absolutely flown it many times before," Figueiredo said. "I'm more concerned about the crazy people saying they're going to retaliate and set his house on fire. They're the extremists."
Dunaway said he is unsure if he will fly the flag again.
"I’m hesitant to fly it now considering it has caused so much trouble, which I don’t understand," Dunaway said. "I would love to fly it again on Friday. I hope this situation goes away."
Marc Leibowitz told NJ.com a friend of his took the photo and sent it to him but didn't want to be involved in the issue. Leibowitz then posted it on Twitter and reported it to Homeland Security because "watching the brutality of ISIS in the Middle East and seeing what appears to me to be an ISIS flag flying in a community not far from my home, it seemed prudent and appropriate to notify the authorities."
However, Leibowitz said he feels remorseful if the flag was simply an innocent expression of Dunaway's faith.
"If he doesn't see it as an ISIS flag and it's not an expression of support for a terrorist organization, then I feel terrible for having caused an invasion of his privacy and any embarrassment in the community," Leibowitz said.
Garwood Police Chief Bruce Underhill issued the following statement regarding the flag: "Thank you for your concern regarding this important matter. Only with the public’s continued cooperation can we keep our communities safe. Please be assured that the Garwood Police are aware of the situation and have taken the appropriate steps. At this time the flag has been voluntarily taken down."
Mayor Patricia Quattrocchi said she knew of the flag but had no comment, except that "the issue is being handled by the police department."
Republican Mayoral Candidate Sal Piarulli said he advised his neighbors "not to jump to conclusions."
"It is well within an individual's right to fly a flag, but if, in fact, this is an ISIS flag, I do find it disturbing," he said.