Friday, June 17, 2005
FBI has yet to open Quran inquiry
The books' burning would have to be ruled a hate crime for FBI involvement.
Kevin Foust, who supervises the Roanoke FBI office, said Thursday that his staff is working with the Blacksburg Police Department and U.S. Attorney John Brownlee's office "to determine whether or not we will open a federal investigation" into the incident. In the meantime, "we have offered any resources we have available" to help Blacksburg police in their investigation, Foust said.
Members of the Al-Hedaya mosque, also called the Islamic Center of Blacksburg, on Southpark Drive said they arrived at the building for prayers Saturday afternoon and found a plastic shopping bag filled with burned copies of the Quran on the doorstep.
Blacksburg police said Wednesday that they did not have any leads on who left the burned texts. Officers were not available to comment on the investigation Thursday.
For the FBI to take on the investigation, the incident would have to be classified as a federal hate crime. Foust would not speculate on the likelihood that the Quran burning would qualify under the statute.
The FBI's jurisdiction over hate crimes is based on federal civil rights laws, including the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 that prohibits "intentional defacement, damage or destruction of any religious real property ... or attempts to obstruct any person in the enjoyment of that person's free exercise of religious beliefs," according to www.fbi.gov.
Hate crime investigations are usually conducted by the FBI and state and local police and prosecuted under state statutes such as murder, arson or local ethnic intimidation statutes, according to the FBI Web site.
Ahmed Sidky, a regular attendee of the Al-Hedaya mosque and a graduate student at Virginia Tech, said Thursday that he was annoyed by the incident.
"Since Sept. 11, the Blacksburg area has been supportive and it's truly disappointing, especially given the incidents" of desecration of the Quran recently reported at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Sidky said the Blacksburg incident "was certainly very symbolic."
Adam Danek, president of the Virginia Tech Muslim Student Association, had a different perspective. "Personally, I think it was one person and one incident and it will probably not happen again."
Members of Al-Hedaya asked for help from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights organization, soon after the incident, said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR.
The group issued a national press release detailing the incident Thursday and contacted the FBI, Hooper said.
CAIR, which tracks hate crimes and discrimination against Muslims nationwide, has documented a steady increase in anti-Muslim violence since 1995 and "saw a big jump" in such crimes last year, Hooper said.
Foust said the Blacksburg incident was the first of its kind that his office had heard of in Southwest Virginia.