Vandals spray-painted a profane message on an Oklahoma City mosque early Saturday, and the FBI is investigating it as a potential hate crime and raising questions about whether the incident was a backlash because of the Boston Marathon bombings.
FBI spokesman Rick Rains said, “We are certainly aware of that incident this morning, and we have been notified, and are investigating to determine if it does fit the criteria for a hate crime,” he said. “We're investigating it as a potential hate crime.”
Oklahoma City police were initially called about 5 a.m. to the mosque at 3201 NW 48, police Lt. Arthur Gregory said.
Hassan Ahmed, the imam of the Grand Mosque, said he was the first member of his congregation to see the vandalism because he was first to arrive at the house of worship on Saturday.
He said vandals painted the words “Hale (sic) Satan” along with a four-letter profanity and a racial slur on the mosque's exterior. He said the vandals also drew a phallic shape on the building.
He said the mosque added more surveillance video cameras after the last vandalism incident at the mosque in August 2012, in which it was hit with paintballs.
However, he said the vandals managed to steer clear of the newer and more advanced cameras, which made him think they had looked around the mosque property before they acted.
A leader with the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Oklahoma chapter asked state and federal authorities to investigate whether the vandalism was motivated by the marathon bombing or bias against the Islamic faith, said CAIR-OK Executive Director Adam Soltani.
“We're afraid that although we have condemned those acts over and over again, and our faith doesn't support acts of violence or terrorism, we're afraid people may be using that as an excuse to attack the local Muslim community,” Soltani said.
The two suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing are Muslim. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, is in custody at a federal prison hospital, and his brother Tamerlan, 26, died after a shoot-out with police April 19.
When Ahmed was asked if he thought the vandalism was backlash from the Boston bombing earlier this month, he said, “We really don't know. We cannot actually assume anything and we cannot rule out anything.”
Ahmed said only some members of the mosque were aware of the latest vandalism. Those that were apprised of the incident Saturday afternoon were surprised by the attack, he said.
Ahmed said as far as he knows the congregation is not fearful because of the incident.
“Everybody doesn't know what it means. They are shocked,” he said.
Ahmed described his mosque members as educated people who love Oklahoma. He said he has lived in the state for 18 years, and he feels the same way. He said he thinks Oklahomans are generally peaceful people and that the vandals are the exception to the rule.
“This is what I believe. I don't want to live anywhere else.”