Members of the area Islamic community say a man who suspiciously circled a Dayton mosque during morning prayer, smashed out three windows and leveled a gun at its security cameras should be charged with a crime higher than vandalism if caught.
“Any time that we see a house of worship being physically attacked — especially when it is a minority religious community — then the automatic assumption is that this is intended as a hate crime,” said Karen Dabdoub, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) - Cincinnati.
Up to three people were inside the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton’s Al-Rahman Mosque on Feb. 28 when they heard loud crashes just before 6 a.m. during fajr prayers, said Ayman Salem, vice chairman of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton.
“If the person picked that time, he knows this is our prayer time,” Salem said.
The mosque’s security cameras caught a man wearing a dark leather-like jacket, tinted glasses and a light cap. He jumped over the property’s back fence before circling around the front to the south side of the building on Josie Street.
“When it looked like he couldn’t enter the mosque, he smashed three of the windows.” Salem said. “And then when he was leaving, he pointed a gun at our security cameras.”
No one inside the mosque was injured.
The Dayton Police Department has made the case a priority, but it’s too soon to know what brought about the crime, according to a police statement Wednesday.
“At this point there is not sufficient evidence to draw a conclusion or make a determination on whether this is a bias crime or not,” the statement read.
Salem said the property lost that morning was of little importance compared to the freedoms practiced at the mosque.
“An attack on any religion is an attack on all religions. It is not just about us. It’s about every other religion and every other minority,” he said “That‘s why we are asking the authorities to take that seriously.”
According to a statement by an FBI spokesman, the bureau is aware of the incident at the Al-Rahman Mosque and in contact with the Dayton Police Department: “If during the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal civil rights violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate.”
Dabdoub said CAIR has documented a significant increase in attacks on American Muslims and mosques since 2016.
Nationwide, anti-Muslim bias incidents rose 17 percent between 2016 and 2017 when 2,599 incidents were recorded to the organization. During the same time period, those crimes reportedly motivated by hate against Muslims rose 15 percent to 300 incidents in 2017. Additionally, CAIR recorded 144 anti-mosque incidents in 2017, according to its 2018 Civil Rights Report.
A “hate crime” places a higher burden on prosecutors and leads to higher fines and longer sentences if a person is convicted of one, said Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton professor of law.
“The difference with a hate crime and traditional crime is you look at the motivation of why someone did something,” Hoffmeister, said. “We look to see why you did it and if you did it because of someone’s race, religion, color or national origin.”
Ohio’s ethnic intimidation law, while enhancing penalties for crimes motivated by intolerance of another’s gender, race and religion, does not do the same for sexual orientation or gender identity, Hoffmeister said.
Dayton police continued to look for a suspect Wednesday afternoon. Anyone who recognizes the man in the surveillance video is urged to call Miami Valley Crime Stoppers at 937-222-STOP (7867).
The Al-Rahman Mosque has been vandalized before, but the group then declined to file charges, Salem said.
Dabdoub said this time is different.
“This is about a religious community that has been attacked during their prayer times, and now people are going to be more fearful of even coming here to offer their prayers,” she said. “Now this is a place that has been targeted and attacked by someone in a very violent manner – and someone with a gun.”