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Mosque: Graffito may be hate crime

Intruders targeted a Tucson mosque Sunday, the second time in less than two months, said mosque officials, who are starting to ask questions.

“We are beginning to wonder if this is a hate crime,” said Muhammad As’ad, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Tucson, where the crimes took place.

The latest incident at the center at 901 E. First St., near the University of Arizona campus, was a ransacking of the mosque office, according to a news release Tuesday from the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

A message – “Bush was here” – was hand-written with a marker on a computer monitor, the release said.

Tucson police confirmed the mosque reported a burglary Monday and the incident is under investigation.

Two months ago, thieves broke into the mosque and stole about $1,000, the release said.

The only TPD report that coincided with that date was an embezzlement reported Feb. 17, a TPD spokesman said. No information on that report was available Tuesday.

CAIR-AZ civil rights director Mohammed AbuHannoud said the council has asked the FBI to assist in the TPD investigation, but the FBI has no record of the request, an FBI spokeswoman said.

Deborah McCarley said the FBI had no record of CAIR-AZ’s request, adding that just because “Bush was here” was scrawled on a computer monitor does not automatically classify the incident as a hate crime.

“I don’t know if that in and by itself would make it a hate crime,” she said Tuesday. “I know of no investigation that we’re involved in at this time.

“It’s unfortunate when any mosque or church is vandalized,” McCarley added, “but it’s not always a hate crime. Many are vandalized and broken into not necessarily as a hate crime but because you have vandals and thieves.”

The center was in the news at the end of last year when a former imam, Omar Shahin, and four other Muslim scholars were barred from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after fellow passengers complained that the Muslims appeared suspicious because they had kneeled and said prayers before boarding.

As’ad said the center may make changes, regardless of the crimes’ classification.

“We are in the process of discussing increased security,” he said. “But this is a good community. Very tolerant, a very good community.”

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