Police search for leads in brutal mosque attack
SPARKS, Nev. – Investigators headed to California on Sunday in their search for leads in the brutal attack of two Muslim men with a baseball bat outside a mosque here.
One victim, Eltag Mirghani, 48, a Reno physician, remained in critical condition with head injuries after the Friday night attack that police are calling a hate crime.
The other, Muhammad Sanad, 46, a Reno engineering consultant, suffered a broken arm while trying to shield his head with his arms during the attack.
Without saying a word, two white men in their late teens or early 20s struck the victims with the bat following prayers at the Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center.
Police Lt. Ken Lightfoot said authorities are struggling to come up with leads and have no primary suspects so far. The FBI is assisting police in the investigation.
”I think the suspects are locals and they probably live in that neighborhood (near the mosque),” he said. ”If they don’t live in that neighborhood, they have friends who live there. It’s just a hunch.”
Two Sparks police detectives went Sunday to an undisclosed California location to investigate whether the attack is related to two earlier attacks at a Jewish synagogue in Reno, Lightfoot said.
In December, five skinheads who admitted to a November 1999 attempted fire-bombing of Temple Emanu-el were sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. In January at the same synagogue, fuel was sprayed on the front door and ignited.
”We want to track down some people in California that may have had some involvement in the temple bombing,” said Lightfoot, who declined to elaborate.
”We don’t have any evidence at this point to link the two together, but we’re still looking at that as a possibility.”
Investigators have concluded several recent acts of harassment against the mosque are unrelated to the attack.
On Friday, mosque officials said, they received threatening phone calls from a man who allegedly accused them of teaching ”filth.”
The man was later picked up for questioning, but investigators are confident he was not involved in the attack, Lightfoot said.
An incident involving a gun-toting gang member who was spotted by some children outside the mosque also appears to be unrelated, he said.
The bat has been sent to the regional crime lab in Reno, where it’s being analyzed for fingerprints and DNA.
In recent years, Muslim places of worship nationwide have become growing targets for hate crimes, said Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
”There have been incidents in Memphis, Denver, Yuba City, Canada and Los Angeles, but this one here in Reno rates as the most extreme,” Ayloush told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
”Never in those cases were people using a baseball bat.”
His Washington-based Islamic advocacy group is urging Muslim communities nationwide to beef up security measures at mosques.
About 6 million Muslims live in the U.S., including 2,000 in the Sparks area.
Ayloush praised police, saying he’s pleased with the priority they’ve given the case. Sixteen police investigators and officers worked overtime on the case Saturday.
Sanad declined comment Sunday, saying he was not ready to discuss the attack.
Mosque trustee Tariq Kuraishy said the next 48 hours would be critical for Mirghani, who was struck repeatedly with the bat. Mirghani remains in a drug-induced coma after a second surgery to remove clots from his brain.
”Hopefully by Tuesday, we should know his precise condition and what his prognosis is,” Kuraishy said.
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