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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slaying Sparks Fears of Backlash

APJeese Singh embracing Harjit Singh Sodhi at the scene in Mesa where their relative, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was slain Saturday.
NEW YORK -- An announcement that an Arizona man was gunned down because he was "dark-skinned and wore a turban" heightened the fears of Americans of Middle Eastern descent and those who are often mistaken for Arabs or Moslems.

The crime and dozens of other reports since last week's terrorist attacks have caused a flurry of activity among civil rights, immigrant and religious groups, which are attempting to curb and document backlash incidents.

In Phoenix on Monday, Prosecutor Rick Romley said Frank Silva Roque targeted minorities during a shooting rampage Saturday in which Balbir Singh Sodhi died.

"Mr. Sodhi was killed for no other apparent reason than that he was dark-skinned and wore a turban," Romley said.

Roque, 42, was jailed on $1 million bail and charged with murder.

"I'm an American. Arrest me. Let those terrorists run wild," Roque was quoted as saying in a police report read to The Associated Press.

FBI agents in Dallas were also investigating whether a Pakistani grocer's slaying stemmed from anger at Moslems for the terrorist attacks.

Both President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft denounced the backlash Monday.

Those who reach out in anger "represent the worst of humankind and they should be ashamed of their behavior," Bush said as he visited the Washington Islamic Center, about three kilometers from the White House.

Although the number of backlash crimes and incidents will not be tallied for quite some time, the many anecdotes of attacks on people and mosques from Austin, Texas, to Parma, Ohio, have some fearing the worst.

"The danger is, I think, quite real," said Charles Kimball, chair of the religion department at Wake Forest University and an expert on Islam and Middle Eastern religion and politics. He was one of seven Americans who spoke with Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iran hostage crisis in 1979.

Late last week, the American Civil Liberties Union set up hot lines in some of its offices, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, to try to track hate-related harassment. Officials there said it was too early to release numbers.

The Police Abuse Center, a Florida-based organization that takes reports from the public about police misconduct, also said it was investigating a number of reports that police officers in undisclosed cities have been targeting Arab-Americans and Moslems.

Center director Greg Slate said there have been as many as 10 reports a day since Tuesday -- an unprecedented number, he said.

The New York-based United Sikhs in Service of America is listing backlash hate crimes on its web site. Sikhism is a completely distinct religion from Islam, and yet some members are being mistaken for Moslems because they wear turbans and have facial hair.

"People in the Sikh community want to go and help -- to give blood and clear rubble from the World Trade Center and serve meals. And we are doing that," group spokesman Harpreet Singh said. "But some are too afraid to go."

Software executive Vivek Wadhwa arrived at work Monday in Raleigh, North Carolina, to advice from worried employees who had heard about the Arizona shooting. "Shave your beard," they told him. "You'll be safer that way." But Wadhwa is not shaving his beard.

In fact, he is helping coordinate a news conference with North Carolina officials later this week to call for an end to attacks and harassment against any group. He wants to explain the difference between Moslems, Sikhs and Hindus -- and religious extremists, who are suspected in the attacks.

"I'm as American as anyone else. My children are American," said Wadhwa, the CEO of a software company called Relativity Technologies. "We consider ourselves patriots. I would die for this country."