A man was beaten early Friday morning outside the mosque once attended by Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter, officials said.
The attack happened after 4 a.m. Friday, when someone called deputies to report an attempted burglary, authorities said.
According to the sheriff's office, deputies then arrived to find a man bleeding from the mouth. The man told deputies that he was "standing next to his vehicle when a male approached him, asked him what he was doing, and then punched him several times in the face and head."
What sparked the attack, however, appears to be under dispute by law enforcement officials investigating the attack and civil rights advocates who allege the victim appeared to have been beaten because he is Muslim.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations — Florida (CAIR Florida) claimed the attacker made anti-Muslim statements before attacking the victim, but authorities said they have no reason to believe any slurs were made.
CAIR said in a statement that the attacker told the victim, “You Muslims need to get back to your country."
But the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office said interviews and a statement from the victim "do not indicate any racially-motivated comments were made by the suspect prior to, during or after the incident."
However, "detectives will be interviewing the suspect, victim and apparent witness that has now been identified by the Council of Islamic American Relations," authorities said.
The man suffered head trauma and lost a tooth in the beating, according to CAIR.
On Saturday afternoon, St. Lucie County sheriff's deputies arrested 25-year-old Taylor Anthony Mazzanti on felony battery charges, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office. He is currently being held on a $3,750 bond.
"This should not have happened,” said CAIR Florida spokesperson Wilfred Ruiz in a statement. “For over two weeks we have been emphasizing that the community from the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce needs to be offered security from the Sheriff's Office. Unfortunately, our requests were repeatedly ignored.”
A volunteer at the Fort Pierce Islamic Center told local NBC affiliate WPTV that the mosque’s leaders had asked the Port St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office to provide additional protection amid targeted attacks and forms of intimidation aimed at the center.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara said in a statement that authorities have reached out to the mosque.
“The untruthful rhetoric from the mosque and its spokesperson is doing nothing more than trying to bring empathy to their cause, which I hope our community recognizes,” Mascara said. “My office, including myself and our agency Chaplain, have repeatedly attempted to communicate with the mosque to explore options of working together and there has been no response.”
The sheriff’s office also told WPTV that previous obligations left officers without sufficient personnel to accommodate.
“Will someone have to be killed for the Sheriff to provide safety and security to this Mosque?” Ruiz asked. “Muslims are part of the community just like everyone else. It is his duty and responsibility to ensure the safety of all his citizens.”
Ruiz said CAIR is planning to file a complaint with the Department of Justice.
Tamerra Griffin is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based Nairobi, Kenya.
Contact Tamerra Griffin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christina Cocca is a curation editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
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