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Sunday, October 23, 2016

By Safiya Merchant, The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The FBI is working with local law enforcement to determine if a Saturday incident at an Islamic center in Washington was “bias-motivated and a violation of federal law,” according to a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Seattle division.

Ten Islam-related books were discovered with handwritten “hateful messages” Saturday morning, each one placed in a separate parking spot in the lot near the Islamic Center of Bothell, according to Arsalan Bukhari, the executive director of the Washington chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR-WA. In one book, part of the handwritten message stated that “Islam is a Satanic Pagan religion desiring slavery torture maiming and the beheading of Gods true followers the Christians and Jews.”

Ayn Sandalo Dietrich, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Seattle division, said in an email that the FBI office in Everett is going to look into it.

“Although a review does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation, we take very seriously allegations of hate crimes because they are not only an attack on the victim, but are meant to threaten and intimidate an entire community,” Dietrich said.

According to the FBI’s website, “a hate crime is a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.” However, the site says, “hate itself is not a crime — and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.”

The Islamic Center of Bothell hosts prayer sessions as well as events such as potlucks and classes.

At a Monday news conference at the center, Bukhari said there has been a “series of events that have targeted this community.”

CAIR-WA had sent an email to the FBI on Sunday, requesting an investigation into the incidents.

In November 2012, Bukhari said, Islam-related books with “hate messages” on them were found near the women’s entrance.

Last September, an outdoor sign for the Islamic center was spray painted, and the following month, graffiti depicting male genitalia were discovered on the wall of the building where the center is located.

A flag for the Islamic center was found burned on Feb. 6.

Jennifer McDonald, the women’s secretary for the center, said Monday, “As an American Muslim, it’s very scary and hurtful that a fellow American would do this to us.

“With living in Seattle, it’s a very diverse community, and I would have never thought of something like this happening here,” McDonald said.

Regarding the person or persons behind the messages, McDonald said, “From what I’ve read from the hate messages, they don’t know a lot about Islam.”

She said that if people want to learn more, they can come to the center, but she requested an end to harassment. “Please stop destroying our property, please stop scaring us,” McDonald said. “This is where we come to worship, not to be attacked.”

AFP Photo