The days surrounding the 15th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have seen a stunning increase in what may be anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States, ranging from arson to murder. In one case, a semi-truck driver appeared to deliberately drive his big rig into a Maryland mosque.
UPDATE: Joseph Michael Schreiber, 32, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., was arrested Wednesday on hate-crime arson charges related to the Sept. 12 firebombing of the Islamic Center in nearby Fort Pierce, Fla., the Sun-Sentinel reported. Tips from the public led to the suspect’s arrest, according to police, who said they searched his home and located social media accounts with anti-Islamic comments.
It’s unclear, according to those who track hate crimes, whether the increase in crimes against Muslims is attributable to the anniversary that claimed the lives of 2,996 Americans (including 60 American Muslims), whether it is linked or inspired by xenophobic rhetoric associated with the presidential campaign or is a coincidental spike in hate crimes.
Madihha Ahussain, a staff attorney for Muslim Advocates who heads a program to counter anti-Muslim hate, says hate crimes against American Muslims “have skyrocketed across the nation.”
Dr. Zainab Chaudry, an outreach manager with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said that American Muslims are being impacted by a “hostile political climate” and are the targets of a “spike in hate crimes and threats.”
The list of possible hate crimes is stunning -- and, growing.
- Early Monday, an arsonist set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, the Florida mosque where Orlando massacre shooter Omar Mateen worshipped. The fire at the mosque, which caused substantial damage, occurred as many in the Muslim faith were getting ready to start the holy holiday of Eid al-Adha. Surveillance video showed a man carrying a bottle of liquid and a handful of paper moments before the fire broke out, the Orlando Sun-Sentinel reported. The arsonist fled on a motorcycle and has not been identified or arrested by a team of federal and local investigators.
- On Saturday night, just hours before the 9/11 anniversary ceremony in New York City, a 36-year-old woman from Scotland wearing traditional Muslim garb had her blouse set on fire by an attacker outside a Fifth Avenue boutique, the New York Daily News reported. The woman wasn’t seriously hurt. Her attacker hasn’t been found.
- On Thursday, two Muslim women pushing their babies in strollers in Brooklyn were punched in the face by a woman attacker who tried to pull off the victims’ hijabs. The attacker, identified as Emirjeta Xhelili, hurled Islamophobic insults as she attacked the victims, the Daily News reported. “Get the f--- out of America, bastards,” the suspect is accusing of yelling, according to prosecutors who charged the suspect with a misdemeanor hate crime.
- Nazma Khanam, a 60-year-old woman wearing traditional Muslim garb, was fatally stabbed to death Sept. 3 in Queens, N.Y., as she was walking home carrying groceries. A suspect, Yonatan Galvez-Marin, 22, identified in video surveillance footage, was arrested four days later and charged with the murder. It occurred less than a month after a Queens imam and his assistant were gunned down as they walked home from their mosque.
- Police in Laurel, Md., near Baltimore, are attempting to identify a tractor-trailer rig caught on surveillance video twice backing into the Islamic Community Center on Contee Road before driving away. The incident, now labeled a hate crime, caused damage to the building. “In light of the hostile political climate impacting the American Muslim community, and because of the spike in hate crimes and threats targeting Muslims and their institutions, we urge federal law enforcement authorities to add their resources to the investigation to help bring the perpetrators to justice and to establish a motive for this disturbing crime,” DR. Chaudry, CAIR’s Maryland outreach manager, said in a statement.
- In St. Paul, Minn., Daniel George Fisher, 57, was arraigned in U.S. District Court on Wednesday on federal charges of obstruction of persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported the suspect is accused of mailing a letter, laced with profanities and racial slurs, in September 2015 to the Tawfiq Islamic Center, threatening “to blow up your building with all you immigrants in it.”