Muslim Cab Driver in Pittsburgh Was Shot in the Back by a Passenger

December 2nd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

Islamic community leaders in Pittsburgh are calling a shooting on Thanksgiving involving a Muslim cab driver who was shot in the back by a passenger a hate crime. Police arrested a suspect, Anthony Mohamed, on Wednesday. 

The 38-year-old Moroccan, who has remained anonymous, picked up a man in the early hours of the holiday. The passenger then pressed the driver on his origins, asking if he was a "Pakistani guy," and talking about the so-called Islamic State

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"He started the conversation and began to ask questions like, 'You seem to be like a Pakistani guy. Are you from Pakistan?,'" according to statements the cab driver gave to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from his hospital bed over the weekend.

"No, I'm from Morocco. But I'm an American guy," the driver responded.

The tone of the passenger soon changed, and he began taking jabs at the driver's religion, and speaking about the time he had spent in prison. But it was only after the man asked the driver to wait outside while he ran into his house to grab his wallet that the driver realized the man had more sinister motives.

The driver explained to the Post-Gazette what happened next:

"He asked me to wait for a little bit because he forgot his wallet in the house. I waited for just five minutes, I think, and I noticed that he came out of the house carrying a rifle in his hand. I noticed him coming toward me. I didn’t hesitate. I [made] a fast decision to leave and drove my taxi away because I felt he was going to do something. There is danger. He would shoot me or something. I felt like he had the intention to kill me.”

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As the driver sped off, the man fired off two shots, shattering the car's rear window and hitting the driver between the shoulder blades. The driver made it a few more blocks before stopping to flag down a passing car to call for help. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh police arrested Mohamed, 26, in connection with the incident. Mohamed was charged with aggravated assault, criminal attempt homicide, and recklessly endangering another person. According to the Department of Public Safety, the investigation is ongoing. 

Speaking to the newspaper, Wasi Mohamed, executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, said that the incident was clearly a hate crime.

"Very simply, this is a hate crime and it must be treated as such," he said. "It is heartbreaking to see a horrible crime such as this committed in Pittsburg, a city that on the surface is making attempts to be more welcoming."

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Anti-Muslim, as well as anti-refugee sentiment has exploded in certain areas in the wake of deadly attacks in Paris earlier this month. It's lead dozens of American governors to say that refugees are not welcome in their states, even though they don't necessarily have the authority to close their states' borders. A spokesman for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf told Penn Live earlier in November that the state would welcome refugees fleeing violence in Syria.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that families leaving Syria are trying to escape the same violence and unimaginable terror that took place in Paris and Beirut," the spokesperson said.

Editor's note: This post has been updated to reflect the fact that Pittsburgh police arrested a suspect Wednesday in connection with the shooting.