Muslim advocacy group denounces stabbing of 23-year-old Palestinian American

(RNS) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, urged Texas and federal authorities to press hate crime charges against a man accused of attacking a group of young Muslims after a pro-Palestinian protest held in Austin last weekend.

Three of the four men attacked were Palestinian American, including 23-year-old Zacharia Doar, who was stabbed in the chest and severely injured. Doar is recovering at the hospital after a successful surgery, according to his father.

“This hate that is going around needs to stop,” said his father, Nizar Doar, during a news conference Tuesday (Feb. 6) at Austin’s City Hall. 

On Sunday evening, the group was attacked while driving home from the Texas state Capitol, where they had participated in a protest by the Austin for Palestine Coalition, demanding a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The four young men were in a truck with a kaffiyeh reading “Free Palestine” tied to a flagpole. The checkered scarf is a headdress of Bedouin origin and became a symbol of Palestinian nationalism in the 1960s, worn by Palestinian leaders such as Yasser Arafat. Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the scarf has been a mainstay at cease-fire protests to express solidarity with Palestinians.

An attacker, identified by authorities as Bert James Baker, approached the vehicle at the corner of Nueces and West 26th streets, in West Campus, a neighborhood close to the University of Texas. 

The man pulled at the kaffiyah and yelled racial slurs, according to the four young men. They said the attacker then opened the passenger door, pulled Doar out of his seat and stabbed him. Doar also suffered a broken rib.

Baker was arrested about 7 p.m. and taken to Travis County Jail, according to an Austin Police Department statement. The 36-year-old man was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

The assault was “bias-motivated and will be reviewed by the Hate Crimes Review Committee,” wrote the Austin Police Department in its statement. The committee will communicate its findings to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether the assault constitutes a bias-motivated crime.

CAIR’s Dallas and Austin offices denounced an attack they said was motivated by Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate. 

“The entire Austin Muslim community stands in solidarity with these young members of our community, who appear to be the latest victims of a surge in anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate across our nation,” said Fayyaz Shah, the chair of CAIR-Austin’s board, in a statement.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR’s national deputy director, called attention to another stabbing of a Palestinian amid the war: the death of Wadea Al-Fayoume, a 6-year-old Palestinian American boy who was stabbed 26 times at his house on Oct. 14.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, the organization has compiled 3,578 complaints related to anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim hate. CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, denounced a “disturbing wave of bias targeting the Muslim, Arab-American, and Palestinian communities.”

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