NEW YORK: The alleged hate-crime beating of a Pakistani man by a group of Jewish teenagers has rattled the city's Muslim community and spurred calls for a federal investigation by an advocacy group.
"It's an indication of the kind of thing that we're seeing as a growing phenomenon, tied to a sharp rise in the anti-Muslim sentiment in our society," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of the Brooklyn case.
Prosecutors have charged five teens with hate crimes in what they describe as a brutal beating of the 24-year-old Muslim man, Shahid Amber, last weekend.
Amber says he was eating ice cream outside a Dunkin' Donuts near his home on Sunday night when a group of 10 to 15 youth wearing yarmulkes began taunting him, calling him a "terrorist" and other disparaging and profane words. He says he tried to ignore them, but they came over, and one knocked his ice cream out of his hand.
"One of them, he spit in my face," Amber said in a phone interview Friday. "As I was cleaning my face, I noticed a punch coming at my face with brass knuckles on it."According to criminal complaints, the teens then began to hit and kick Amber and yelled: "Go back to your country" and never mess with Jews.
The five defendants — Yitzi Horowitz, 15, David Brach, 15, Yossi Friedman, 17, Shulomi Bitton, 16, and Benjamin Wasserman, 16, all from Brooklyn — have been charged as adults with several crimes, including menacing and assault as a hate crime. They could get up to 25 years in prison on the top charge of assault in the first degree, the Brooklyn district attorney's office says.
Efforts to find their lawyers or to reach the boys' families on Friday and Saturday were not successful. However, Irit Bitton, mother of Shulomi Bitton, told the Daily News for Friday's editions that her son was not biased.
"My son was just standing over there and he did not touch anybody," she said. "He's a sensitive boy. He wouldn't even kill a fly. I believe my son 100 percent."
The Brooklyn case came just days after the Oct. 19 slaying of an Afghan-born mother of six in Fremont, California. Alia Ansari, 38, was gunned down while walking in a residential neighborhood. Authorities have not yet labeled that shooting a hate crime, but Muslim leaders have voiced concern that she was targeted because she wore a headscarf.
Hooper said the two incidents come at a time of increased rhetoric against Muslims in America, with vitriol found in letters to the editor, on conservative talk radio and even in some politicians' talks.
His organization recently reported it had received almost 30 percent more civil rights complaints from Muslims in 2005 than in 2004. The 1,972 complaints, which cover harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment, were the highest number of complaints the group had received in its 12-year history, according to its report.
The advocacy group has urged federal charges against Amber's accused attackers.
"I think intervention by the Justice Department would send a strong message that anti-Muslim attacks would not be tolerated in America," Hooper said. Justice officials could not be reached for comment Saturday.
Mohammad Razvi, head of the Council of Peoples Organization, a Brooklyn-based South Asian social services agency, said the incident involving Amber has shaken the area's Pakistani and Muslim communities.
However, he insisted there was no ongoing tension between those groups and Jews in Brooklyn.
Amber, who suffered a broken nose, two black eyes, and other injuries, has asked for prayers to help him cope. "I feel sorry for these people," Amber said of his accused attackers. "They need help at this time."
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