A Muslim advocacy group in Seattle is calling on the FBI to look into a possible hate crime against a Somali taxi driver. According to Seattle Police, the attacker reportedly told the driver “you are a terrorist” and “I will shoot you,” then repeatedly punched him in the face.
“The severity of the incident makes this a more serious matter,” said Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations (CAIR) in Washington state, which is part of a national organization. “The person was attacked by three people who left him bloodied and unconscious.”
Bukhari said the driver, Adan Gaal, 34, is recovering from a broken nose. Bukhari said he suspects it was Gaal’s skin color or race that triggered the attack. The incident happened around 2 a.m. Sunday in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood.
Police arrested one suspect who returned to the scene while police were there. He admitted to being involved, but claimed self-defense. The suspect was booked into King County Jail for investigation of malicious harassment, with his bail set at $50,000. KUOW is not naming the suspect because he has not been charged.
Bukhari said the suspect is a member of the U.S. Navy, and CAIR has asked the military to look into the incident. “We are asking them for appropriate action. It is very unbecoming for a person who is a member of our armed forces to take the action that [he] did.”
Tuesday, at the Yellow Cab dispatch office in South Seattle where Gaal works, several of his co-workers and managers gave mixed reactions about safety risks for taxi drivers, and whether a person’s race or religion puts them at higher risk.
“The nature of the taxi business -- picking up strangers in the wee hours -- you always have to deal with the occasional drunks and robbers,” said Amin Shifow, general manager of Yellow Cab and who is also from Somalia. “But on an incident like this when the reason you’re being attacked is because of what you look like or how you talk, it’s really devastating. It’s tough.”
Shifow said he plans to open a hotline for drivers to report harassment or other potential crimes against them, since he said many drivers decline to contact the police because they view it as a waste of time. He also said Gaal’s cab, like many others, was equipped with a camera that snaps a photo every time the door is opened. Shifow said the camera has been turned over to police.
Amare Taye, an Ethiopian who’s driven a cab in Seattle for 13 years, agrees drivers face risks, but not necessarily because of their race or religion.
“I don’t hate and I don’t see people hate me,” Taye said. “But if you don’t communicate well with people, maybe you can end up in trouble. If you think you’re going to show you’re a macho man, then the thing can go up or down.”
In the dispatch office, Yellow Cab superintendent Samuel Bojale often works at the airport where he said many cab drivers are Indians with turbans and long beards.
“Some passengers don’t like to take taxis driven by them,” said Bojale. “They think they look like Bin Laden, you know?”
Bojale said the tension was much worse in the years following 9/11.
CAIR's Bukhari said his organization saw a clear increase across the country last year in reported hate crimes against Muslims. But in Washington state, he said the numbers appear unchanged. Bukhari said his office received more than a dozen reports of local anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2013.
In February, CAIR’s Washington state chapter also called on the FBI to investigate hate messages left at a mosque in Bothell.