It began as an ordinary cab ride.
But by the time it was over, the Pittsburgh taxi driver — a 38-year-old Muslim man from Morocco — had a bullet wound in his upper back and was lucky to be alive, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Pittsburgh police are investigating the Thanksgiving Day shooting, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is asking for more help: CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has called on the Justice Department to investigate the incident as a hate crime — which, it said, was “similar to a growing number of attacks targeting the nation’s Muslim community following the recent terror attacks in Paris.”
The passenger, according to CAIR, “reportedly began asking the driver about his background, including asking whether he was a ‘Pakistani guy.’” CAIR says the passenger also asked the driver “about the terror group ISIS” and mocked the prophet Muhammad.
The driver, who moved to Pittsburgh from Morocco five years ago, told the Post-Gazette that he is three months away from becoming a U.S. citizen. His plan is to bring his wife to the United States and start a family in the country he considers home.
“This [incident]is due to the person, not the city,” he told the paper. “Pittsburgh is my style, it is like my home town [of Safi]in Morocco. My dream is to be an American.”
“This is my country,” he added. “I am proud to say I am American, but I didn’t have the chance to say that to him.”
The driver — who spoke to the newspaper on the condition of anonymity because of concerns about his safety — told police that he picked up the man outside of a casino at about 1 a.m. As the trip unfolded, the driver told the Post-Gazette, his passenger began to ask questions about his background.
“He started the conversation and began to ask questions like, ‘You seem to be like a Pakistani guy. Are you from Pakistan?’” the driver told the newspaper at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy, where he was being treated for a bullet wound in the upper back. “And I said, ‘No, I’m from Morocco. But I’m an American guy.’”
The conversation switched to “ISIS killing people,” he said, and then to Muhammad. The passenger, who has not been identified by police, even mentioned that he is the father of two children and that he was in prison at one point, the driver said.
When the pair arrived at the destination, the passenger turned violent, according to the Post-Gazette:
“He asked me to wait for a little bit because he forgot his wallet in the house,” the driver told the paper. “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.”
The driver heard gunshots as he drove away. A bullet shattered the back window of his taxi and struck the man between his shoulder blades.
He was able to drive a few more blocks before flagging down a passing motorist, who called police.
City Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents the district where the shooting occurred, told the Post-Gazette that investigators are still piecing together what happened.
“Detectives are talking to a couple witnesses and they’re starting to gather information to put a timeline together,” he said. “There are all kinds of details that have to be looked into. They have to look at the evidence and any videos that may exist.”
Greg Heeb, a spokesman for the FBI’s Pittsburgh office, told the paper that the bureau is aware of the incident but gave no indication about whether an investigation might follow.
“All I can really say is that we evaluate all crimes that appear to be racially motivated,” he said.
In a statement, CAIR said the organization has noticed a recent spike in reports of “Islamophobic discrimination, intimidation, threats, and violence targeting American Muslims.” CAIR said it attributes the growing number of incidents to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris at the hands of Islamic extremists — and the “anti-Muslim rhetoric and falsehoods being espoused by leading Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson.”
“Because of the reported bias statements made by the alleged shooter, and because of the recent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes nationwide in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, we urge the U.S. Department of Justice to add its resources to the case and to help bring the perpetrator to justice,” CAIR-Pittsburgh Program Director Alia Schindler said, according to the statement. “Federal officials need to send a clear message that attacks on American Muslims, or on any minority group, will not be tolerated and that the perpetrators will face the full force of the law.”
Ibrahim Hooper, a CAIR spokesman, told The Washington Post that he believes even more incidents of discrimination and intimidation are going unreported.
“When you speak with local imams and Muslim community leaders, they tell you about other incidents that they haven’t mentioned to anyone else — Muslim women being spit on, harassment in schools and random acts of violence,” he said. “We believe the spike after the attacks on Paris is even higher than people realize.”
The cab driver told the Post-Gazette that he doesn’t want revenge, but he does want justice.
“In our religion, Islam, we forgive, even in such conditions,” he said. “I learned this from our prophet Muhammad. We don’t take revenge. I could forgive this, but I still want my rights.”