Orlando, Florida: A Muslim man was beaten on Saturday outside a Florida mosque attended by the gunman who killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, though authorities and a Muslim civil rights group differed as to whether the attack was racially motivated.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said the assault outside the Fort Pierce Islamic Centre was reported around 4.11am local time and that deputies found the victim, who had been punched in the head and face, bleeding from the mouth.
The suspect, 25-year-old Taylor Anthony Mazzanti, was arrested shortly thereafter and booked on a charge of felony battery, the office said.
“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,” Sheriff Ken Mascara said in a statement.
Mascara said the investigation was ongoing.
The Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) gave a different account of the incident.
The organisation said a senior official with the Muslim non-profit, ICNA Relief, was with the victim and that the attacker approached spouting racial slurs and other offensive language.
CAIR said the attacker, who is white, allegedly said, “You Muslims need to get back to your country,” before assaulting the victim, who was not identified by CAIR or authorities. CAIR said the victim was Muslim and attended the Islamic Centre.
The Islamic Centre’s imam had requested extra security following the mass shooting last month by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, about 120 miles to the north, according to CAIR and mosque spokesman Wilfredo Ruiz.
Ruiz said Mateen had infrequently attended the mosque.
Mateen, who was killed by police after a three-hour siege inside the club, declared himself to be an “Islamic soldier” and pledged allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State militant group, according to emergency call transcripts released by the FBI last month.
Ruiz criticized the Sheriff’s Office for not giving them additional security, saying: “This should not have happened.”
Sheriff Mascara said statements on the attack made by mosque officials and CAIR included “untruthful rhetoric.”