By Christy Strawser
DETROIT (CBS Detroit) He says he wants a campground, a peaceful place for young people to plant roots and connect with nature in peaceful northern Michigan.
But neighbors wanted it “written on paper” that Nayef Salha was not, instead, planting a terrorist training cell.
At issue is 90 acres in Goodar Township, a small, wooded slip of a place in rural Ogemaw Township, Mich. Salha, who owns the land, applied for a special use permit this spring to turn his property into a youth campground.
The permit was approved locally, then sent to the Ogemaw County planning commission, which governs such matters in the area, and they first tabled it, then revisited it. They rejected it this week with a 4-3 vote after a group of residents rallied around the idea it could be a secret terrorist training ground.
The decision seemed to baffle Salha, a Muslim who lives in Dearborn. The Detroit mattress store owner said he dreamed of running the camp in his retirement.
“The thing is I hate ISIS,” he told the Ogemaw Herald. “They kill more Muslims than any other organization from what I understand. “For me to be associated with them is ludicrous. I don’t agree with anything ISIS does, and I am that hard against them.”
The rejection was officially because the camp would not be “harmonious” for people who live in the secluded area. It would bring traffic and noise, local studies found.
There were, however, whispers of something else.
“There are a lot of people here that are concerned about this could very easily be a training camp,” said Tim Reetz at a meeting on the permit request, per the Ogemaw Herald.
“A lot of people here want to (look into this) because that is a perfect location for a training cell — out of sight and out of everybody’s view and everything else. A hell of a lot can go on in a situation just like that, and it’s too suspicious for me. I think there should be some extensive background investigation into the owners of the property and the people that want to develop the property and their associates. The people that do that would be the FBI, and I think there should some contact made officially from the board to the FBI and the ATF.”
Goodar Township clerk Kristine Detroyer told CBS Detroit there’s nothing they can do about the decision at the local level. “It’s in the hands of the planning commission at the county level, so it’s their decision to make,” she said.
The proposal included eight cabins to house 12 children and two adults, a dining pavilion, a bath house, a gravel parking lot for 40 cars and four buses and a floating dock on the west side of the lake, according to the permit request. Existing building on the property would be used for adult housing, office space and storage.
The camp, overall would hold 96 children and 20-30 adults, per the proposal.
Some close to the situation said residents seemed fearful based on reports like this one from May saying ISIS is planting cells throughout the United States, including Michigan.
The Facebook message, alleging to be from ISIS, threatened the life of a blogger who had helped plan a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest.
The post goes on to say ISIS has “71 trained soldiers in 15 different states ready at our word to attack any target we desire.”
“Out of the 71 trained soldiers 23 have signed up for missions like Sunday, We are increasing in number bithnillah. Of the 15 states, 5 we will name… Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Michigan …”
For Salha supporters, sometimes a campground is just a campground.