The U.S. Justice Department is investigating a handful of apparently anti-Muslim incidents in four states, including the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City.
Over the past eighteen months, the Department has prosecuted three men who burned a mosque in Tennessee, two others who burned an African-American church in Massachusetts, and another who spray-painted threats on a synagogue in Alabama, among other cases.
"Violence against individuals or institutions based on religious bias is intolerable and the Department will bring anyone who commits such crimes to justice. Americans of every faith have the right to worship and practice their religion in peace," the Justice Department said in a prepared statement.
Attorney General Eric Holder met Tuesday with Muslim and other religious leaders to discuss the attacks and the uproar over a planned mosque near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks the Muslim air pirates that brought down the World Trade Center's twin towers.
The religious leaders want Holder to condemn hate crimes with a forceful public statement and to order his community relations service to try to defuse tensions over plans by a Gainesville, Florida, church to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The White House, Pentagon and State Department all have said the desecration of the Quran could endanger U.S. troops and civilians abroad. The church's pastor, Terry Jones, insists he intends to go ahead.
At a press conference after the meeting with Holder, the religious leaders described the gathering as "remarkable" and said Holder described the recent violence as "the greatest civil rights challenge of our time."
The leaders also quoted Holder as saying the plan by Jones to burn Qurans is "idiotic and dangerous."
The incidents have followed sustained criticism of the planned mosque near the site of the destroyed World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Early plans for the project known as Park51 call for a 500-seat auditorium, a Sept. 11 memorial and prayer space.
Among the incidents under investigation as potential hate crimes, all dating from July and August:
- A Muslim cab driver in New York City had his face and throat slashed in a suspected hate crime. Michael Enright of Brewster, New York, has been indicted on state hate-crime charges in the attack and could also face assault and attempted murder charges.
- Arson at the site of a future mosque in Murfreesboro, where leaders of the local Islamic Center won permission in the spring to build a new mosque after outgrowing their rented space.
- A brick nearly smashed a window at the Madera Islamic Center in central California, where signs were left behind that read, "Wake up America, the enemy is here," and "No temple for the god of terrorism."
- A fire and graffiti at the Dar El-Eman Islamic Center in Arlington, Texas.
- Police arrested five teenagers after the son of one of the founders of a mosque in Waterport, New York, on Lake Ontario was sideswiped by a sport utility vehicle. One teenager was charged with firing a shotgun in the air near the mosque a few days earlier.