A Muslim man pummeled outside the mosque attended by Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen — and his father — lost a tooth and was hospitalized following the seemingly random attack early Saturday, according to a local report.
The views on the motivation behind the assault have largely conflicted depending on police and witness accounts.
Taylor Anthony Mazzanti, 25, allegedly approached the victim from behind and disparaged Muslims before sucker punching him outside the Fort Pierce Islamic Center in Florida, a witness told the Palm Beach Post.
“He said, ‘You Muslims need to go back to where you came from,'” said witness Abdul Rauf Khan, who told the Post the suspect smelled of alcohol during the 4:11 a.m. assault.
“He had been drinking,” Khan added. “It was a vicious attack. He just started throwing punches.”
Police confronted Mazzanti during a traffic stop and arrested him on suspicion of battery. He remained in custody for only a few hours before posting bond at around 11 a.m. Saturday, according to St. Lucie County jail records.
Although Khan, along with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, argue that the victim’s race was a factor in the assault, investigators believe there was no immediate indication the suspect made racially motivated remarks.
The victim’s statement apparently did not corroborate Khan’s version of the ordeal and he told police the suspect “asked him what he was doing and then punched him several times in the head and face.”
Police were initially called to the mosque’s parking lot following a report of a car break-in and instead found the victim bleeding from the mouth.
The victim later identified Mazzanti as the attacker.
“Interviews by the deputies and supervisors on scene and a written witness statement completed by the victim do not indicate any racially-motivated comments were made by the suspect prior to, during or after the incident,” said St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara in a statement. “However, we are further investigating the incident and detectives will be interviewing the suspect, victim and apparent witness that has now been identified by the Council of Islamic-American Relations.”
It’s unclear why police did not interview Khan at the site of the attack.
Khan said he had stopped by the Fort Pierce mosque to attend its early-morning prayer service when he saw the victim struggling to open his car locked with his keys inside.
The assault follows repeated demands by the mosque officials for extra police patrols fearing anti-Muslim retaliation in light of the June 12 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando where Mateen killed 49 clubbers.
“Unfortunately, our requests were repeatedly ignored,” said CAIR spokesman Wilfredo Amr Ruiz.
Mascara defended his agency in his statement addressing the assault.
“The untruthful rhetoric from the mosque and its spokesperson is doing nothing more than trying to bring empathy to their cause, which I hope our community recognizes,” Mascara said. “My office, including myself and our agency Chaplain, have repeatedly attempted to communicate with the mosque to explore options of working together and there has been no response.”