- Associated Press - Friday, July 15, 2016

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Vandalism at a Rhode Island mosque discovered not long after the deadly truck attack in Nice, France, spurred a call by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for authorities around the U.S. to increase police patrols to protect Muslim institutions.

Police said they were looking for a hooded person who spray-painted anti-Muslim graffiti in large red letters on the front of the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda and smashed its windows with what looked like an ax. A witness reported the vandalism not long after Thursday night’s Nice attack, which French officials have called an undeniable act of terror though no group had claimed responsibility.

The mosque in South Kingstown is near the University of Rhode Island’s main campus and is attended by many Muslim students and faculty members. Its co-founder Nasser Zawia is dean of URI’s graduate school and a pharmacy professor.

CAIR called on law enforcement to investigate the mosque vandalism as a possible hate crime. The organization also condemned the truck attack in France and comments by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who argued that Muslims in the United States should be tested and be expelled from the country if they believe in Sharia, or Islamic law.

The state’s top federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha, visited the mosque on Friday with the town’s police chief and URI’s president to show support for congregants and offer help. The South Kingstown Police Department said it is looking for someone who fled shortly before officers arrived around 11 p.m. Thursday.

Zawia said the mosque, which opened in 2001, received “really wonderful, beautiful support” from the community on Friday. He said people had worked since midnight to board up the windows and remove the graffiti and weekly Friday prayers were conducted.

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