DETROIT: Michigan police are investigating an alleged attack on a Muslim woman on board a flight to Detroit on Sept. 11 as a possible hate crime.
The Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said it is reviewing the case to determine the final charges to bring against the suspect, a white woman accused of verbally berating and physically assaulting Aicha Toure during the Spirit Airlines flight from Atlanta.
According to reports, police sources said that the suspect allegedly punched Toure, a research assistant at Michigan State University, in the face after a verbal altercation.
American civil rights organizations condemned the attack as a hate crime.
“It is clear that the actions of the alleged assailant, along with her bigoted statements, indicate that her assault and battery of Ms. Toure was motivated primarily by Ms. Toure’s identity as a visibly Muslim woman,” one group said. It added that Toure had been targeted because she was wearing a hijab, which is the Islamic head scarf.
Police said Toure intervened after the suspect allegedly began berating an older female passenger, who appeared to be of South Asian heritage. The older woman apparently lost her grip on her luggage and it accidentally hit the suspect, who allegedly responded by hurling abuse at the woman. When Toure intervened and asked the suspect to stop, she became the target.
According to witnesses, the suspect’s bad behavior escalated when the aircraft landed at Detroit Metro Airport, possibly when she noticed passengers were recording her. She allegedly called Toure a “Muslim terrorist,” swore at her and punched her.
The woman faces assault and disorderly conduct charges, with the possibility of a hate-crime component, according to reports by Fox2Detroit TV news. Michigan has an Ethnic Intimidation Law that was introduced to protect people from racial hate.
A representatives of Spirit Airlines told The Detroit News that a passenger on the flight “chose to use appalling language” toward another passenger.
“That kind of language has no place on our planes — or anywhere else — and she is no longer welcome on any of our flights,” they added.
The incident is one of a number of crimes targeting Muslims on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, that are under investigation. They include a vandalism attack that damaged the entrance sign and periphery lighting at the Grand Blanc Islamic Center in Michigan.
And community leaders in Austin, Texas called for a hate-crime investigation after a bloodied pig’s head mask and a hateful Islamophobic message was left outside Islamic Center of Greater Austin and Austin Peace Academy. The message read: “Muslims: you are as unclean to God as a pig is to you. Have your idolatry washed clean by the blood of Jesus Christ.”
In the aftermath of 9/11 many American Muslims were targeted by Islamophobic harassment and attacks. Hate crimes against Muslims rose by about 500 percent between 2000 and 2009, according to data from Brown University.
As the world marked the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks in New York and Washington, in which nearly 3,000 people from more than 90 countries were killed, statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program show hate crimes against Muslims grew following the attacks.
The report, based on data from more than 15,000 state and local police agencies, reveals anti-Muslim hate crimes jumping from 28 incidents in 2000 to 481 in 2001. The numbers dropped in the years that followed, with some fluctuations, but have never returned to pre-9/11 levels.
“Preventing and responding to hate crimes and hate incidents is one of the Justice Department’s highest priorities,” US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said on Aug. 30. “The FBI Hate Crime Statistics for 2020 demonstrates the urgent need for a comprehensive response.”