- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 16, 2005

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Police are investigating whether a hate crime took place when someone left a bag of burned Korans in front of an Islamic center.

Members of the Islamic Center of Blacksburg were shocked when they arrived at the building for Saturday prayers and found a plastic shopping bag filled with burned copies of the Koran at the front door.

“It is a shame that people are so ignorant,” said Idris Adjerid, 20, a member of the center.

Mr. Adjerid told the Roanoke Times that he has attended the center since 1997 and nothing like this has happened before.

Blacksburg police Lt. Donnie Goodman reported the incident to the Virginia State Police, which compiles hate crime statistics. But he said the department is not sure whether the Koran burning is a hate crime.

For the incident to be considered a hate crime, police must be able to show that the act was meant to intimidate or harass, he said.

Kevin Foust, the agent in charge of the Roanoke FBI office, said yesterday that his office is helping in the investigation. He declined to speculate whether the incident would be classified as a hate crime under state or federal law.

Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate crimes nationally, said he doubts the incident would be considered a crime.

“I think it amounts to a biased incident as opposed to an actual crime,” he said. “It was certainly intended as an act of hatred toward Muslims, but you can burn a stack of Bibles and what are they going to do about it?”

Laila Al-Qatami, a spokeswoman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, questioned how police could consider the act anything other than a hate crime.

“If pages from the Bible were burned and put in a bag outside a church, I think the reaction of the police would be that it would be a hate crime,” she said.

Miss Al-Qatami said discrimination against Muslims has increased with reports of abuse of the Koran from the prison holding terror suspects at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

She blamed the incidents on a lack of zero tolerance for hate crimes and “a lack of information about Arabs and Islam as a whole.”

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