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Police Investigate Possible Hate Crime

A pregnant Muslim woman said she was shoved and called a terrorist by three white men.

When Mary Ann Cole-Dia, 23, moved to Arlington with her husband in January 2004, she thought their new neighborhood would be a tolerant and welcoming place to raise a Muslim family.

Now, eight months pregnant with her first child, Cole-Dia thinks differently.

While taking a morning walk near her apartment last week, three white men in a green pick-up truck began screaming anti-Muslim and racist slurs at her, she said.

The men yelled, "You terrorist bitch, go back to your country ... You [expletive] bitch," said Cole-Dia, who is African American.

One of the men, described as tall, thin and wearing military-style clothing, got out of the truck and shoved Cole-Dia, preventing her from escaping.

During the attack, the man allegedly shouted, "You terrorist bitch ... We're going to kick your ass ... You're nothing."

The other two men then called her assailant back to the pick-up truck and all of them sped away from the scene, she said.

"I thought, OK, I'm going to die," Cole-Dia said a few hours after the incident. "I am shocked. I am still in shock. I never thought this would happen."

Cole-Dia, who converted to Islam five years ago, was wearing an Islamic head scarf at the time of the attack.

ARLINGTON POLICE are investigating the incident, which occurred near the 800 block of South Walter Reed Drive around 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, as a possible hate crime.

While Virginia does not have a separate hate crime statute, other felonies or misdemeanors that are clearly fueled by discrimination can carry enhanced penalties.

If apprehended, Cole-Dia's attacker could be charged with assault and battery, said Matt Martin, a police spokesman.

"We are investigating it and we take this very seriously," Martin said. "These types of crimes are absolutely not tolerated in Arlington."

Racially motivated crimes are rare in Arlington, though there were a few sporadic reports of slurs yelled at Muslim residents not long after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Martin said.

"Arlington is a diverse community. It's something we pride ourselves on," he said. "When somebody commits a crime that is racial or nationalistic in nature, we're going to seek those individuals out."

Cole-Dia said she and her husband might leave Arlington now, feeling unsafe and targeted because of their religion.

"This whole thing has just been a terrible experience," she said.

AFTER NOTIFYING THE POLICE about the incident, Cole-Dia contacted the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Islamic civil rights and advocacy organization.

Ibrahim Hooper, the council's spokesman, said anti-Muslim attacks have been increasing in Virginia and throughout the nation in recent years.

"Unfortunately, we're seeing a growing number of these incidents," he said."

Hooper said xenophobic messages in the media are fueling hatred toward Muslim-Americans.

"We believe these types of incidents are the direct result of the growing level of virulent anti-Muslim rhetoric Americans are exposed to on the Internet, in newspaper editorials and on radio talk shows," he said. "Our nation's political and religious leaders must begin to challenge Islamophobic hate-mongers."

There were 109 documented cases of anti-Muslim bias last year in Virginia, ranking the state fourth overall for total anti-Muslim incidents, according to an annual report produced by CAIR.

Most of the anti-Muslim bias cases reported last year were triggered by the victim's head scarf, according to the report.

In 2004, Virginia accounted for 7 percent of the nation's total 1,522 reported anti-Muslim incidents.

In one prominent case last year, a Chesterfield gas station which was owned by a Sikh man was burned down on Dec. 1. Anti-Muslim graffiti was found on a nearby shed and dumpster, according to the report.

And on Aug. 10, 2004, a Muslim man on his morning commute was tail-gated by another man, who pulled up alongside the Muslim and yelled, "[expletive] terrorist, filthy [expletive] raghead go back to the desert where you came from," according to the report.