It was the evening of Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the

When forgiveness is heroic: Issa Qandeel.

When forgiveness is heroic: Issa Qandeel.

It was the evening of Sept. 13, 2001, two days after the terrorist attacks. Jordanian immigrant ISSA QANDEEL was leaving the Idriss Mosque in North Seattle after the last prayer service of the day, walking slowly to the parking lot as he talked with a friend about the horrors of the attack. As they reached Qandeel’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, they spotted liquid beneath the car, and then a man lurking behind it carrying a gas can and a gun.

“I said, ‘Shoot, but tell me first what you’re going to shoot me for,'” Qandeel remembers. Instead, according to Qandeel, the furtive figure tried to fire three times but the gun failed. Qandeel says he chased the attacker, whereupon the man turned around, shot one more time, and missed. (The attacker, Patrick Cunningham, has said in court documents that he was only trying to scare Qandeel, not shoot him.) A chase ensued, ending only when the man got in his car and drove wildly into a telephone pole.

The incident, covered widely in the press at the time, was only the beginning of the story. Even more noteworthyand inspiringwas what Qandeel did next. “My plan was really to help him right from the start,” Qandeel says of the man he thinks tried to kill him and who, at the very least, wanted to set cars outside the mosque ablaze because of his feelings toward Muslims in light of 9/11.

As a Muslim, Qandeel, 34, believes that forgiveness is a way to get closer to God. What’s more, he says his background in Jordan taught him that good people can be deceived into doing bad things by the government or the media. Of Palestinian descent, Qandeel spent much of his childhood in a refugee camp, where he faced discrimination by Jordanians and observed the cycle of violence that is Middle East politics. Rising to become a mechanical engineer and now working for a downtown architectural firm, he looks at Cunninghama middle-aged high-school graduate who said he had spent the days after 9/11 drinking and watching TV in shockas a victim of inaccurate portrayals of Muslims.

So when it seemed that authorities were trying to make an example of Cunningham, filing four charges against him in federal court that could have sent him to jail for up to 75 years, Qandeel objected. “I told them I wanted to drop the charges,” he says. That wasn’t possible. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Donald Currie says that Qandeel’s “amazing” attitude of forgiveness, echoed in sentiments expressed by the mosque, influenced the government in negotiating a plea bargain with Cunningham, in which two of the charges were dropped.

Qandeel didn’t stop there. He testified at Cunningham’s sentencing hearing, speaking movingly about the uselessness of retribution and requesting leniency. “I told them, ‘Nothing would make me happier than this gentleman leaving the court with me today,'” Qandeel says. In the end, Cunningham got six and a half years instead of 75.

At some point before the sentencing, Qandeel tried to see Cunningham in jail. “I just wanted to go and introduce myself to him, to tell him, ‘This is the person you were trying to kill,’ to tell him about my familythat I take care of seven brothers and sisters after my father passed away.

“I was hoping to touch his heart and get him out of the cycle of hatred,” Qandeel says.

Qandeel says Cunningham wouldn’t see him, perhaps because of a no-contact order that forbade Cunningham from communicating with members of the mosque. It’s uncertain if his heart was touched. But Cunningham, who used to work driving disabled people to appointments, did write a four-page, handwritten apology to the mosque in which he referred to “the two brave men of your congregation,” presumably Qandeel and the friend who was with him on the night of the attack.

Qandeel was brave for facing down his attacker that night, but reaching out to him afterward took a different kind of heroism, one that in this time of war and bitterness we could surely use more of.Nina Shapiro

Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing

More in News & Comment

File photo/Sound Publishing
Ban on single-use plastic bags in WA begins Oct. 1

Shoppers will have the choice to pay for a reusable plastic or recycled paper bag.

Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance
Puget Sound renters will need housing assistance

Nonprofits, activists are expecting greater need as workers are laid off.

file photo
Housing and finance insiders call for subsidized housing families can own, instead of rent

Advocates say increasing homeownership will strengthen the community, build intergenerational wealth

Map of proposed landfill expansion sites (screenshot from King County website)
Waste management expert knocks county’s plan to expand landfill

The waste management advocate said the decision to expand seems pre-determined despite assessment.

file photo
State employees including first responders sue state over vaccine mandate

The lawsuit filed on behalf of more than 90 plaintiffs claims Inslee’s order is unconstitutional.

Pixabay photo
Union carpenters to go on strike, expected to impact Eastside Microsoft projects

Members authorized strike after rejecting AGC offer for the fourth time.

file photo
The state’s hospitals face “unprecedented collapse” amid COVID uptick warn healthcare unions

Union spokeperson says understaffing was a problem even before the pandemic.

Gov. Jay Inslee talks about schools reopening during a past news conference. (Screenshot courtesy of TVW)
Masks required at big outdoor events; vaccine mandates expanded

Governor’s mask order takes effect Sept. 13.

Pixabay image
King County is looking for community members to help oversee law enforcement accountability

Community Advisory Committee for Law Enforcement Oversight is in need of applicants.

Garbage at the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill in Maple Valley. FILE PHOTO
Why burning our trash may not be as bad as it sounds

Understanding waste-to-energy’s financial and environmental impact in King County.

People hold up signs in protest of Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest proclamations during a Rally for Medical Freedom on Aug. 25 in Buckley. Photo by Alex Bruell/Sound Publishing
State workers get incentive to comply with vaccine mandate

An agreement between the state and their union also provides for some leeway in meeting the deadline.