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FBI investigating mosque graffiti in Va.

Monday - 9/17/2012, 4:20pm  ET

HARRISONBURG, Va. (AP) - The FBI is investigating vandalism at a mosque that was spray-painted with obscene graffiti that included a misspelled reference to Iraqis and the phrase, "This is America."

Lawrence Barry of the FBI office in Richmond said Monday that the agency is helping local authorities investigate. He said the FBI joined the investigation at the request of officials at the Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley, one of three Harrisonburg buildings targeted by vandals late last week.

The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations also had called on the FBI to investigate. The American Muslim advocacy group said there was clear evidence of a bias motive in the mosque incident.

"From the vulgar language and the racist language, it was very clear that the mosque was the target," CAIR executive director Nihad Awad said.

Barry declined to speculate on the motive but acknowledged that the FBI would not investigate a run-of-the-mill vandalism.

"There would have to be the potential for a civil rights violation, like a hate crime," he said.

Vulgar graffiti also was discovered at a high school and a Christian school. Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson said the three incidents appear related. He described the graffiti as the work of "local knuckleheads" that "would be offensive to a wide range of people."

Also this past weekend, cars were vandalized near the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, but police don't believe the mosque was targeted.

"It wasn't in fact a hate crime," said Officer Shelley Broderick, a police spokeswoman.

Last week, Dar al-Hijrah leaders participated in a news conference condemning anti-American violence in Libya and Egypt and later attended a prayer vigil at the White House.

Hutcheson said attributing the Harrisonburg vandalism incidents to a backlash against the anti-American violence "would be taking a huge leap."

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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