NASHVILLE — The nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization on Saturday called for federal officials to launch hate-crime investigations into incidents involving two mosques in Johnson City, Tenn., and Roanoke, Va.
Ibriahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in an interview Saturday that an online arson threat against the Johnson City mosque and vandalism at the mosque in Roanoke reflect a rise in Islamophobia in some communities following the July 16 shooting rampage in Chattanooga, during which four Marines and a Navy petty officer were killed.
The gunman, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez of Hixson, was killed during a confrontation with Chattanooga police. The FBI is treating Abdulazeez as a "homegrown violent extremist" who appears to have acted alone.
"We've seen a steady uptick in the number of incidents targeting Muslims and their institutions nationwide" due to attacks earlier this year on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Hooper said.
"Obviously, [Chattanooga] has fed into that overall atmosphere of Islamophobia in our nation," said Hooper, whose group quickly condemned the Chattanooga slayings when news broke of the shootings. "That and, quite frankly, we're not getting any push-back from public officials in terms of public support at the national level, particularly for the Muslim community."
WJHL-TV reported Friday that local authorities are investigating the online threat made against the Muslim Community Center of Northeast Tennessee in Johnson City. Center officials have requested an extra patrol.
Center officials told a reporter with the station that someone found the threat online and alerted center officials who then contacted the Washington County Sheriff's office.
In Roanoke, officials at Masjid An Nur Islamic Center told WSLS-TV the facility has been targeted by vandals for more than a year, with the latest attack coming early Thursday morning. Surveillance video shows vandals breaking glass in the mosque's front doors.
The television station reported that during an interview with mosque administrators, people across the street shouted vulgarities and "terrorist." The Roanoke City Police Department said charges were pending against two juveniles for the most recent vandalism, WSLS reported.
Meanwhile, two gun-store owners in Florida and Kentucky have declared their stores "Muslim-free zones." Hooper said an anti-Islam activist uploaded a video to YouTube in which the man blames Islam for the violence and then fires a rifle repeatedly at a Quran.
In Chattanooga, Bassam Issa, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said, from what he has heard, local Muslims have not received any threats or negative treatment. They had a security guard at the mosque during Friday prayers, but they typically do.
Still, in Dayton, Tenn., a gas station owner who is from India and Hindu was the subject of attacks on Facebook after Abdulazeez's attack on two Chattanooga military sites. Although Sunny Patel was traveling in Washington state at the time of the attack, a local resident wrote that Patel had said he was happy that the military sites were attacked. The post was shared thousands of times and attracted a lot of negative attention for the business owner.
Meanwhile, as concern about racial profiling increases since the July 16 attack, the U.S. Defense Department is asking armed civilians who began guarding military recruitment centers after Abdulazeez's attack to stand down, citing potential "security risks."
Defense Secretary Ash Carter "is currently reviewing recommendations from the services for making our installations and facilities safer — including our recruiting stations," a Pentagon spokesperson said in a statement.
Across Tennessee and parts of the rest of the country, heavily armed civilians, many of them veterans themselves, have been standing patrol.
The New York Times reported an unidentified Defense Department official saying Friday's request for volunteers to go home was prompted by concerns over an "accidental weapons discharge" from a civilian weapon outside a recruiting station on Thursday in Lancaster, Ohio.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.