A Muslim man was reportedly attacked outside the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce early Saturday morning — the same mosque Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen occasionally worshiped at.
The alleged attacker, 25-year-old Taylor Mazzanti, was arrested on felony battery charges Saturday. He was booked into St. Lucie County Jail and released on a $3,750 bond, according to the jail.
After the attack, the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida said it plans to file a complaint with Gov. Rick Scott and the U.S. Department of Justice.
In a press release, the group says local authorities ignored requests for increased security, despite numerous threats since Mateen fatally shot 49 people at a nightclub on June 12.
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At about 4:15 a.m. Saturday, a time when some are still praying during the holy month of Ramadan, a white truck stopped in front of the mosque. A man stepped out uttering racial slurs, according to the press release from the council, which is the largest Muslim civil rights group in Florida.
“You Muslims need to get back to your country,” the man reportedly said before hitting the mosque member in the head and knocking out a tooth, according to the press release. The victim wasn’t identified, and it wasn’t clear if he was hospitalized.
Abdul Rauf Khan, the assistant executive director of Islamic Circle of North America Relief, reportedly saw the altercation and called 911. Two St. Lucie County Sheriff deputies arrived at the scene and arrested the suspect about an hour later.
In a release from the Port St. Lucie Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Ken Mascara said interviews and a written witness statement from the victim “do not indicate any racially-motivated comments were made by the suspect prior to, during or after the incident.”
“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,” Sheriff 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.”
A West Palm Beach Beach TV reporter tweeted pictures of the victim and his bloody hands as he was photographed by police.
“This should not have happened,” Wilfredo Ruiz, CAIR-Florida’s communications director, said in the release. “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. Will someone have to be killed for the sheriff to provide safety and security to this Mosque?”
Ruiz said the Fort Pierce mosque’s leaders have attempted to hire St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputies to provide security but have been rejected, Miami Herald news partner CBS4 reported on Tuesday. The mosque has about 100 regular members, including Mateen’s father.
About 170,000 Muslims attend about 120 mosques in Florida, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.
“Muslims are part of the community just like everyone else,” Ruiz said in the release. “It is his duty and responsibility to ensure the safety of all his citizens.”
St. Lucie Sheriff Ken Mascara had issued a statement Friday saying deputies were patrolling the mosque more frequently but the office didn’t have the staffing levels to place guards there, even if reimbursed.
“The terrorist attack in Orlando has our entire agency working extremely hard,” Mascara said in the statement. “Our first and primary mission is to ensure the continued safety and security of our entire county. Placing patrol units at specific locations by special request, even if reimbursed by the requesting party, is evaluated based on staffing levels and can at times limit our ability to maintain our mission and appropriately respond to the entire community.”