The FBI has opened an investigation in Pittsburgh into a shooting on Thanksgiving Day in which a Muslim taxi driver was shot in the back by a passenger who allegedly asked him about ISIS and his religious background, according to a spokesperson with the FBI's Pittsburgh division.
Anthony Mohamed, 26, was arrested Wednesday and charged with aggravated assault, criminal attempt homicide, and recklessly endangering another person, police told BuzzFeed News.
The investigation comes after the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in the U.S., asked the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting as a hate crime in the wake of an increase in anti-Muslim incidents following the Paris attacks.
The FBI is investigating the shooting with Pittsburgh police and the United States Attorney's Office, Western District of Pennsylvania.
The driver remains at a local hospital in a stable condition. A representative from the Pittsburgh Islamic Center told BuzzFeed News that the driver was avoiding any further interaction with the media.
According to a description of the incident posted by CAIR on Facebook, the 38-year-old taxi driver of Moroccan heritage picked up the alleged shooter early Thursday. The passenger then allegedly began questioning the driver about his background, asking if he was "a Pakistani guy."
The driver, who for his safety did not want to be identified, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he responded, "No, I'm from Morocco. But I'm an American guy."
The passenger then allegedly began talking about how ISIS killed people, to which the driver said, "Actually, I'm against ISIS. I don't like them," he told the Post-Gazette. The passenger also allegedly mocked the Prophet Muhammad.
The driver added that the man also revealed that he had been in prison and had two children.
Upon reaching the destination, the man allegedly told the driver he had to go inside his house to retrieve his wallet. According to CAIR, he then emerged with a rifle.
The taxi driver tried to speed away as gunshots rang out, but one of the bullets struck him in the back and blew out the taxi's rear window, police said. He managed to drive a few more blocks and flagged someone down for help.
Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's national communications director, told BuzzFeed News that the exchange between the passenger and the driver got "increasingly hostile" and that the passenger was allegedly "forcing [the driver] to denounce things."
"We've had these cases before," Hooper said, noting that there is often alcohol involved, with the suspect expressing "hysterical anti-Muslim sentiment."
Hooper said the shooting was one of the many anti-Muslim hate crimes that have been reported "almost every day" since the Paris attacks, which ISIS claimed responsibility for. Many other incidents involving Muslim women and students being targeted go unreported, he added.
"What we're seeing is just the tip of the iceberg," Hooper said.
While the initial police report was sparse in details, Hooper said he had spoken to police officials, who he described as being "on board" with investigating the shooting as a possible hate crime.
A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh Police Department told BuzzFeed News that investigators were following a "variety of leads" and in the process of interviewing the driver, who "did not initially present to investigators the details he shared with a local newspaper."
However, considering police had the address of where the passenger was dropped off, "I would anticipate an arrest today," Hooper said.
The driver told the Post-Gazette that he left Morocco for Pittsburgh five years ago with the hope of bringing his wife to the U.S. and starting a family. He said that in three months he would become an American citizen, and already felt at home in Pittsburgh.
"This [incident] is due to the person, not the city," he said. "Pittsburgh is my style, it is like my hometown [of Safi] in Morocco. My dream is to be an American."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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