SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — A cultural center located in South Kingstown was the target of vandalism overnight.
Windows were smashed at the Muslim Community Center of Kingston’s Masjid Al-Hoda and an anti-Muslim message was spray-painted on its front-facing wall: “Muhammad prophet of butchers.”
The center is located on Fortin Road, at the top of URI’s main campus. South Kingstown police responded to the scene at about 11 p.m. after the vandalism was reported by neighbors who heard and saw what happened.
An eyewitness reported seeing a lone perpetrator wearing all black with a hood covering his or her head and using what appeared to be a long-handled axe to break the window, according to police. Responding officers checked the immediate area but were unable to locate the suspect.
The graffiti and glass have since been cleaned up, but the windows still need to be replaced.
Spokesman Dr. Naser Zawia said the facility opened in 2001 and has never had an issue in 15 years of operation.
“Our community would really just like to convey to their neighbors we know this is isolated, and we are not afraid,” he said. “We just need to educate those ignorant elements that act on their own and are angry. But we don’t harbor any ill feelings towards anyone and we let the law take its course.”
The center serves many URI students and faculty members. University President David Dooley stopped by Friday to show his support.
“I would be disappointed if it happened anywhere. But it’s really damaging to what we’re trying to achieve here at the University of Rhode Island,” he said. “And we want to say in the strongest possible terms that we’re not going to be intimidated.”
During a prayer at the center, many in attendance seemed to have a common view of the perpetrator.
“Someone that we forgive,” said Daouda Ndiaye, a center member. “Because they are probably misguided. We are good people. We’re Rhode Islanders. We’re Americans. We’re just part of the landscape, the community.
The center reported the vandalism to the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
The organization put out the following statement:
“We will not let ourselves be divided by turning on each other or by throwing away the principles of justice and inclusion on which our nation was founded. We call for stepped-up protection of America’s Islamic institutions and for the repudiation of calls to hate and division by irresponsible public figures.”
CAIR called for a state and federal investigation into the apparent hate crime and requested increased police protection in the area of Islamic institutions nationwide.
The organization also condemned Thursday night’s attack in France, which occurred just hours before the vandalism.
At least 84 people are dead after a man drove a truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice.
No specific group claimed responsibility for the attack, which ended after police gunned down the armed attacker.
U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha also visited the scene on Friday to extend his support.
Eyewitness News asked Dr. Zawia what he would say to someone who is fearful of Muslims in light of acts of radical Islamic terrorism.
“Get to know us. We are just members of Rhode Island like everybody else,” he said. “We are workers, physicians, teachers, nurses. If we see anything that we think is going to endanger our neighbors, we’ll be the first ones to take action.”
South Kingstown police are actively investigating the incident. When a suspect is located, officials said the charge would be vandalism – with a request for a hate crime penalty enhancement from a judge.
Anyone with information is asked to call South Kingston Police at (401) 783-3321.