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Muslim advocacy group urges hate crime charges against suspect accused of stabbing Palestinian American

The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group wants prosecutors to bring federal and state hate crime charges against a man arrested in the stabbing of a 23-year-old Palestinian American man Sunday evening in Texas.

The victim, identified by his father as Zacharia Doar, was hospitalized and had surgery following the incident, which, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, followed a pro-Palestinian protest in Austin. He was discharged from the hospital Tuesday evening, CAIR said.

“He’s in pain, he’s in agony,” Nizar Doar, the victim’s father, said at a news conference earlier Tuesday, where CAIR representatives and other community leaders called for the incident to be treated as a hate crime, pointing in part to the suspect’s alleged attempt to rip a flagpole bearing a keffiyeh – a traditional Palestinian scarf – from the car in which the victim was traveling.

Zacharia Doar - CAIR
Zacharia Doar - CAIR

“The first thing that came to mind is, I’m going to lose my son,” Nizar Doar said, adding his son and his son’s wife just had a baby. “I was thinking, how am I going to tell them that I failed to protect my son?”

The Austin Police Department identified the suspect as Bert James Baker, saying in a statement Tuesday it believed the alleged attack to be a “bias-motivated incident.” Baker, 36, was arrested on a charge of second-degree aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, according to online court records.

The case will now be “reviewed by the Hate Crimes Review Committee,” police said. “Once the committee reviews the details of this case, the information will be provided to the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and/or the County Attorney’s Office.”

The district attorney will make the final decision on whether hate crime charges are warranted, police said, and the investigation is ongoing.

In a statement, the Travis County District Attorney’s Office said it “does not tolerate acts of hate in our community and is committed to holding people who commit these crimes accountable.”

“Our office has already contacted the Austin Police Department to staff this case,” it said. “We look forward to receiving their investigation of Sunday’s incident, which we will review.”

Richard Gentry, Baker’s public defender, had no comment.

The US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas is “aware of the incident” but declined further comment, per standard practice, a spokesperson said.

The alleged attack comes amid a surge in reported anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and antisemitic incidents in the US as the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas continues. On Tuesday, Nizar Doar said his son blamed the attack on President Joe Biden and his refusal to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

“He said, ‘Mr. President, Mr. Joe Biden, I blame you,’” Nizar Doar said. “‘I blame you for what happened to me. If you would have called for a ceasefire three months ago, this would not have happened.’”

The incident happened just after the victim and three other Muslim Americans attended a pro-Palestinian protest, CAIR said in its news release. Nizar Doar said Tuesday he urged his son to come home to Dallas afterward, but that he and his friends wanted to “try the good food in Austin.”

The group was driving when the suspect allegedly tried to “rip a flagpole with a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf reading ‘Free Palestine’ off of their car,” CAIR said in a news release. The suspect screamed the N-word and pulled one of the group from the vehicle and attacked him, CAIR said, citing the victims. The three others got out and fought the suspect, who then allegedly stabbed the victim with a knife, CAIR said.

Officers with the University of Texas at Austin Police Department responded around 7 p.m. to find Austin Fire Department and EMS personnel already treating the victim, the agency said in a news release. The Austin Police Department arrested the suspect, according to UT Austin Police, and the victim was taken to a hospital.

Neither the victim nor the suspect is affiliated with the university, UT Austin Police said.

“The entire Austin Muslim community stands in solidarity with these young members of our community, who appear to be the latest victims of a surge in anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian hate across our nation,” Fayyaz Shah, the chair of CAIR Austin’s board, said in a statement.

“We encourage law enforcement to file hate crime charges against the suspect and we also encourage federal law enforcement to open a hate crime probe.”

CNN’s Jeremy Grisham contributed to this report.

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