DETROIT – An Islamic coalition representing southeast Michigan Sunni groups and centers said Tuesday that the vandalism of Shiite mosques and businesses over the weekend could be hate crimes and called on the federal government to investigate.
Late Saturday night or early Sunday, vandals broke windows of two mosques and five businesses along Warren Avenue owned by Iraqi Shiites, the second largest Islamic sect after the Sunnis.
The owner of a restaurant whose windows were broken said he had received threatening phone calls before the vandalism that referred to his Shiite creed, according to the Islamic Shura Council of Michigan, based in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills.
Detroit Police Sgt. Eren Stephens Bell said the department is investigating the vandalism and could not confirm if the incidents were hate crimes. She said police will review security tapes to try to identify the vandals.
The FBI said in a statement Tuesday that it has talked to the Council on American-Islamic Relations and leaders of other community groups. If the Detroit police find information that links the vandalism to federal civil-rights violations, the FBI would "pursue it accordingly."
Mouhib Ayas, president of the Islamic Shura Council, said the incidents appear to be a reaction to events in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq and the execution of Saddam Hussein. Iraq's Shiite-controlled government ordered Saddam hanged before sunrise on Eid al-Hadha, or the Islamic Feast of the Sacrifice.
Ayas said a lot of people felt provoked by the timing of the execution late last month and viewed it more an act of revenge than carrying out justice, but he condemned the vandalism as an unfortunate act of a few individuals.
"They definitely do not reflect the feeling, position of the majority of Sunnis in Michigan," he said.
Ayas said he and others plan a meeting this week between area Sunni and Shiite leaders to ease tensions.
Osama Siblani, a spokesman for the Arab American and Chaldean Council of Metropolitan Detroit and publisher of the Arab American News in the neighboring suburb of Dearborn, said he does not know the motivation for the vandalism. But he said it could be a reaction to celebrations on Dearborn's streets Dec. 29 by Iraqi Shiites following Saddam's execution. The celebrations were close to the buildings that were vandalized.
"If it was in one store, I would have assumed it was a personal feud. But because it happened to multiple stores and Iraqi centers, it leads me to probably conclude that it's a dispute between those who believed (the celebration) was not the right thing."
The schism between Sunni and Shiite stems from early days of Islam and arguments over the Prophet Muhammad's successors as caliph, the spiritual and temporal leader of Muslims. The Shiites wanted the caliphate to descend through Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law. The Sunnis no longer have a caliph.