Police in Southern California have opened a hate crime investigation into the vandalization of a Sikh house of worship in Orange County that was defaced with Islamaphobic and gang graffiti.
The graffiti was discovered on the exterior of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Buena Park and included the word Islam — spelled “Islahm” — and a reference to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), according to the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group.
The defacement, discovered on Sunday, came days after a Muslim couple killed 14 people at a holiday party in nearby San Bernardino, California.
The graffiti, much of it illegible, also included some gang references, the Sikh Coalition said in a statement.
The group said the gurdwara — a place of worship for Sikhs — had reported the incident to the Buena Park police and had asked local and federal authorities to investigate the incident as a hate crime.
A spokesman for Buena Park police told the New York Times that officers were increasing patrols around the building and had opened a hate crime probe.
“The writing, because of what it is and because of the history of Sikhs being targeted in the past for retaliation after terrorist attacks, we are investigating it,” Corporal Bret Carter told the paper.
Sikhs say they have been singled out increasingly for harassment since the 9/11 attacks, with perpetrators believing incorrectly that they are Muslim extremists because of their turbans and beards.
In September, a Sikh man was attacked and badly beaten in Chicago by a suspect who pulled up to his car yelling racial slurs, including, “Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden,” the coalition said.
The news comes in the same week a severed pig's head was left outside a mosque in Philadelphia. Police have stepped up patrols in the area where the incident took place as they continue to investigate. No arrests have been made.
Advocacy groups believe there has been a spike in anti-Muslim incidents across the United States in recent weeks that can be linked to last week's mass shooting in California and the inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. And they say that Muslims are fearful the backlash could lead to further harassment and violence.
“The spike began with the Paris attacks and has intensified with what happened in San Bernardino and now with what Donald Trump is proposing,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday. “I have never seen such fear and apprehension in the Muslim community, even after 9/11.”
The FBI, which keeps national statistics on hate crimes, said data for 2015 will not be available until next year. But the Anti-Defamation League said it has tracked more than three dozen incidents since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.
“We're talking at least three dozen that we're aware of, and I'm sure there are many more incidents that haven't been reported,“ said Oren Segal, the director of the ADL's Center on Extremism.