A Muslim student at San Diego State University (SDSU) was reportedly battered, pushed and verbally assaulted in a parking lot on campus in a disturbing incident being investigated as a hate crime, the university confirmed.
According to the SDSU Police Department, the crime happened around 1:45 p.m. Thursday in Parking Lot E on the university’s campus. That parking structure is located near Zura Way at East Campus Drive, as seen on this map.
SDSU police detectives said a female student reported that unknown man pushed her and pulled her by her head scarf while making “hate-related comments and threats based on her ethnicity.” The exact comments made toward the students were not immediately released.
Following the aggressive encounter, the suspect left the area on foot and was last seen going toward the direction of Parking Structure 6, which is across the street, also on East Campus Drive.
The student was not physically harmed in the incident, investigators confirmed.
According to SDSU detectives, the victim described the suspect as a white man in his 20s. He was approximately 5-foot-11 with a thin build and wore a grey sweater, blue jeans and white shoes. He had dark black hair and either hazel or green eyes. No suspect vehicle was seen.
Friday afternoon, police released a composite sketch of the suspect to help identify and catch him.
"I felt really sad when I first heard about it," said Ahmed Buzeriba, who serves as the Muslim Student Assocation's (MSA) president on campus.
He received the notice from SDSU police warning that there was a potential hate crime committed there.
Buzeriba said Muslim students could be considered easy targets, especially if wearing traditional garb, such as a hijab.
“It’s easier for people to tell they are Muslim. For that, I think they have more of a chance to get harassed,” he said.
When asked if he thinks his school is a safe place, Buzeriba said, "I don't know. We get crime alerts all the time, so I don't know if it is a safe place. It should be a safe place."
Students are turning their anger over the attack to action, organizing a march against Islamaphobia for Monday. Some 350 people have RSVP'd to the demonstration at the center of the campus.
According to an event page created on Facebook, the group plans to gather at 12:30 p.m. at Hepner Hall and then march towards the Union where Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Diego organization plans to speak.
“We are calling on the SDSU and greater San Diego community to come out and rally against Islamphobia and bigotry in defense of Muslim students and all oppressed people," the event page reads. "This attack is a direct result of the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric that has become prevalent in the United States and we are calling to end this trend.”
In an interview Friday night, Mohebi told NBC 7 the hate crime on the university campus is nothing short of horrific, as well as ignorant.
“It’s absolutely disrespect, to say the least, to the religion, to the person’s commitment,” said Mohebi. “I don’t see much difference between the ignorance of terrorists and criminals that attack civilians.”
Mohebi said he has had contact with the victim in this campus attack and said he offered her CAIR’s assistance as she copes. For now, he said the student wants to avoid attention from the media.
Mohebi said one day prior to this attack, another female Muslim student at SDSU called CAIR with a complaint, indicating others had been acting different toward her since the terrorist attacks in Paris. She asked the organization for advice.
Meanwhile, the SDSU Police Department said detectives are actively investigating the parking structure attack. Lt. Mike O’Deane confirmed the case is being investigated as a hate crime.
Anyone with information should contact detectives at (619) 594-1783 and reference the case number, 15-1669, or provide tips via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tipsters who wish to remain anonymous may also call Crime Stoppers at (619) 235-8477.
SDSU said the campus prides itself on having a diverse student body and “community of people from all races, ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
“We affirm and reaffirm our commitment to providing a welcoming and supportive environment of opportunity for all students, faculty, staff and community members,” the university said in a media release Friday.