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Level of hate crimes against U.S. Muslims highest since after Sept. 11

WASHINGTON — Hate crimes against American Muslims have soared to their highest levels since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to data compiled by researchers, an increase apparently fueled by terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad and by divisive language on the campaign trail.

The trend has alarmed hate crime scholars and law-enforcement officials, who have documented hundreds of attacks — including arsons, assaults, shootings and threats of violence — since the beginning of 2015.

While the most current hate crime statistics from the FBI are not expected until November, new data from researchers at California State University, San Bernardino, found that hate crimes against American Muslims were up 78 percent over the course of 2015. Attacks on those perceived as Arabic rose even more sharply.

Some scholars believe that the violent backlash against American Muslims is driven not only by the string of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States that began early last year, but also by the political vitriol from candidates like Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on immigration by Muslims.

"We're seeing these stereotypes and derogative statements become part of the political discourse," said Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at the San Bernardino campus.

The latest major episode of anti-Muslim violence came last weekend, when an arsonist started a fire that engulfed the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, where Omar Mateen — the gunman in the June massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando — had sometimes prayed.

Police arrested Joseph Schreiber, 32, a local man who had criticized Islam in social media postings.

The new study from Levin's nonpartisan group, based on official police reports in 20 states, estimated that there were about 260 hate crimes against Muslims nationwide in 2015.

That was the most since the record 481 documented hate crimes against Muslims in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks set off waves of crimes targeting Muslims and Middle Easterners, Levin said.

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