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Police have suspect in Victoria Islamic Center vandalism

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 11, 2013 at 2:11 a.m.
Updated July 12, 2013 at 2:12 a.m.

A man came forward Thursday claiming responsibility  for spay-painting a tag on the Victoria Islamic Center. No charges have been filed.

A man has admitted to his involvement in Wednesday's Victoria Islamic Center vandalism, Victoria police said Thursday.

Victoria Police Chief J.J. Craig said the man, whose identity and age cannot yet be released because he has not been charged, came forward about 3 p.m. Thursday admitting he was responsible for spray-painting the front of the Islamic center with "H8," a computer shorthand for "hate."

"We're continuing to talk to this individual," Craig said. "It's being investigated as a criminal matter, an act of graffiti at a place of worship, which includes the possibility of a hate crime. But at this time, the facts around the event are still being explored."

The Islamic Center's imam, Osama Hassan, reported the vandalism Wednesday morning. The crime coincided with the start of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islam.

The incident went viral after the Advocate broke the story Wednesday. The case is receiving national attention as a hate crime.

The Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., released a statement Thursday urging Victoria law enforcement to examine the incident further to determine whether the crime was anti-Muslim.

"Due to the nature of the graffiti and past incidents in Texas and nationwide targeting mosques, we urge law enforcement authorities to determine whether the perpetrator was motivated by anti-Muslim bias," said Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of CAIR-Texas's Houston chapter.

CAIR released a similar statement last month when a McKinney mosque was vandalized with two dozen paintballs.

If police move forward with charges and the man is convicted, he could face up to a year in state jail, Craig said.

If District Attorney Steve Tyler decides to pursue the case as a hate crime, however, the man could face longer jail time, Craig said.

Police officers removed the graffiti on the Islamic Center's wall Thursday after materials were collected for evidentiary purposes.

"Our intention is not to leave the building defaced while we continue our investigation," Craig said.

Craig emphasized police have been taking the incident seriously since it was reported.

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