Khalid Khannouchi, the world-record holder in the marathon, was sitting with his family in his hometown of Meknes, Morocco, on the afternoon of Sept. 11 when the phone rang. On the line was his brother Mustafa, 28, who works in a deli in New York City. "Something is very bad," said Mustafa, who had neither the heart nor the words to elaborate. "There's news from New York. You must watch for yourself." The family members in Meknes switched channels and were horrified at what they saw. "There were 20 in my family—aunts, uncles, cousins, my father, Mohammed—and there were many tears for the innocent people," says Khalid, 30 (below). "We were hurting too. We were sick."
For the next 24 hours America's most accomplished Muslim athlete couldn't get a clear phone line to reach the country that had granted him citizenship 16 months earlier. Finally, on the 12th, he received calls from his wife, Sandra, who was at their home in Ossining, N.Y, and had planned to join him for a vacation in Morocco days later, and Hafid, 26, another brother, who lives in Connecticut. Both were safe but shaken, worried about what this attack might mean for Khalid and other Muslims in the U.S. and worldwide.
"I hope people can understand that if the people [who did this] call themselves Muslim, they are not," an emotional Khannouchi said on Sunday from Meknes. "Terrorism is no part of our religion. Who has done more harm to the name of Islam than these people?"
Khannouchi was a runner of modest achievement in July 1993 when he arrived in Buffalo for the World University Games and decided to stay in the U.S. He moved to Brooklyn four months later and found work at the Metropolitan Athletics Congress in Manhattan. At night he ran through Brooklyn streets and mastered the New York skill of traffic dodging. He used to enjoy having lunch with Mustafa at Fine and Shapiro, a deli in the World Trade Center at which his brother worked behind the counter until about two years ago. In '98 Khalid and Sandra moved to Ossining, 30 miles from Manhattan. In '99 he won the Chicago Marathon in a world-record 2:05:42.
Khannouchi fears a backlash against Muslims. "I'm afraid you will see a different look from the person who gave you respect before," he says. "I hope not, but I worry. Remember, we are not to blame. We are also your family."