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Vandalism at Madera mosque one of several incidents under investigation by Justice Department

September 7, 2010 |  4:09 pm

Vandalism at a mosque in Madera, Calif., is one of several apparently anti-Muslim incidents being investigated by the Justice Department in four states, including the stabbing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City, officials said Tuesday.

Other incidents the FBI and civil rights division investigators are looking into involve mosques or mosque construction sites in Arlington, Texas; Murfreesboro, Tenn.; and Waterport N.Y.

U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder met Tuesday with religious leaders to discuss the attacks and the uproar over a planned Islamic community center near ground zero in New York.

The criminal investigations were confirmed by civil rights division spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa in response to a query from the Associated Press.

Activists want Holder to condemn hate crimes and try to defuse tensions over a Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The Madera Islamic Center, located on Road 26 about two miles north of town, was vandalized three times last month. Someone tried to smash a mosque window with a brick. A sign was left with the words: "Wake up America the enemy is here." On Aug. 24, more menacing signs appeared, including "No temple for the god of terrorism."

Toughly 200 Muslims live in this largely Latino city of 58,000. Most have lived in the community 30 years or more.

The Madera County Sheriff's Department has classified the vandalism as a hate crime. A group called the American Nationalist Brotherhood claims responsibility. Sheriff's officials said they had never heard of the group.

"Obviously, people are connecting this to New York, the debate on whether they should or should not build a mosque near ground zero," Erica Stuart, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department, said recently. "But still. Here? What in the world does any of that have to do with Madera County?"

The Islamic Cultural Center in Fresno, the nearest big city, held a news conference at the Madera mosque last week to combat what they say is growing anti-Muslim sentiment stirred up by the Manhattan debate, especially on local talk radio.

-- Associated Press and Diana Marcum in Madera