Last year was one of the worst years ever for anti-mosque incidents, and 2017 isn’t looking any better. The Islamic Center of Fort Collins is one of the latest sites in this trend after an incident of vandalism on March 26.
Rocks and a Bible were thrown through a window of the center in the early morning. Security camera footage showed a man in his late 20s or early 30s trying to break into the mosque at about 4 a.m., although it doesn't appear that he got inside.
“There were two round, solid rocks. One of them was like 5 pounds,” describes Tawfik AboEllail, Islamic Center president. “And he threw it very hard. It flew across the prayer hall, which is like 50 feet wide. Imagine how much force he used. And if someone came in the path of that rock, praying, and it hit him in the back of his head—it would have killed him.”
After the news broke members of the community came out in force to show their support for the mosque. About a thousand people, including congregants from a nearby church and synagogue, gathered Sunday afternoon.
— Austin Humphreys (@AustinHumphreys) March 27, 2017
A group from Plymouth Congregational stopped by after church to express their support. pic.twitter.com/tmk30kYgHQ
— Cassa Niedringhaus (@CassaMN) March 26, 2017
One of those attending was Fort Collins resident Marcey Smith. She expressed dismay that an act like this could take place in her community.
“I think it was just outrage that anyone—a group of people or one person—could take an action to show such disregard or disrespect to anybody else’s beliefs,” Smith says.
The vandalism that occurred at the Islamic Center in Ft. Collins is unacceptable. It's time for us to stand in unity. These acts must end.
— Rep. Jared Polis (@RepJaredPolis) March 26, 2017
This isn’t the first time a Colorado mosque has been targeted. A month ago the Colorado Muslim Society in Denver found themselves in a hauntingly similar scenario: someone threw a rock that smashed a window early in the morning.
The Fort Collins Muslim community has been the target of vandals before as well, says Islamic Center elder Elizabeth Siddiqui.
“This is the first time for this building, yes. At the old mosque at 900 Peterson there had been I think 3 or 4 incidents of vandalism very similar to this one,” she says.
For Lamine Kane, the 28-year-old president of Colorado State University’s Muslim Student Association, the attack feels personal. With charged political rhetoric against Islam becoming more common, Kane says he’s occasionally felt fearful around town, especially when dressed in his traditional Muslim garb.
“Right after the election, for the first time since I’ve lived in Fort Collins, I got off the bus about midnight and I was afraid of three white kids who were walking behind me,” Kane says.
But at the Sunday rally, about 1,000 residents showed up to support the mosque. That open show of support might be the silver lining in the whole incident, Kane says. After seeing the crowd, he’s not fearful any more.
“That’s what [the vandal is] looking for. Whoever did that and the people who do these kinds of actions, that’s what they want. And so it motivated me more,” he says.
In response, the Islamic Center will continue its outreach and community events uninterrupted, Kane says.
“Unfortunately, just in recent weeks, we’ve seen a spike in anti-mosque incidents,” says Ibrahim Hooper with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. “We believe it’s part of the overall phenomenon of an unprecedented rise in anti-Muslim incidents of all types since the November election.”
He says CAIR has counted at least 30 attacks in 2017 so far.
“American Muslims are quite apprehensive at the moment,” Hooper says. “They don’t exactly know which direction we’re going in terms of the protection of civil rights and religious freedom under the Trump Administration.”
UPDATE MARCH 28, 2017
Fort Collins police asked for the public’s help in identifying the vandal and have made an arrest. Joseph Scott Giaquinto, 35, was taken into custody Monday evening. He faces several charges: criminal mischief, third-degree trespass and bias-motivated crime.
“We will not tolerate acts of hatred in our community, and I hope this arrest sends that message loud and clear,” Police Chief John Hutto said in a statement. “While the building can be repaired, this incident caused deeper hurt that won’t just go away. I urge all of our citizens to continue showing the kind of support and acceptance demonstrated at the Islamic Center rally on Sunday night.”
Cassa Niedringhaus, reporter with the Coloradoan, and KUNC's Luke Runyon contributed reporting to this story.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to reflect an arrest made in the case late Monday evening.