FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Authorities said they have arrested a suspect in the early Saturday beating of a man outside a Florida mosque that Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen had attended, and an Islamic group said the victim was a Muslim.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said racial slurs were made by the attacker, though authorities said they had no immediate indication of any racially motivated comments. Authorities said, however, that they were continuing to investigate.
St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken J. Mascara said deputies were called to the Fort Pierce Islamic Center at 4:11 a.m. Saturday by a caller who said someone was attempting to burglarize a vehicle. His statement said deputies found a man bleeding from the mouth who said he was approached by a man who “asked him what he was doing and then punched him several times in the face and head.”
Mascara added that the man left but an officer’s traffic stop minutes later halted a vehicle and the victim subsequently “positively identified the driver as the man who attacked him.”
The sheriff’s statement said a suspect identified as Taylor Anthony Mazzanti, 25, was arrested and has been charged with felony battery. Mazzanti was booked into jail on a $3,750 bond.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Mazzanti had an attorney.
Mascara didn’t identify the victim, but said he was treated for injuries at a medical center and released.
The Council, or CAIR, issued a statement earlier that a white truck stopped at the mosque early Saturday and that a man had made slurs, saying “You Muslims need to get back to your country.”
Mateen’s father is among the roughly 100 members that attend the mosque. Ruiz said Omar Mateen sometimes attended Friday prayers but didn’t socialize with others.
Mascara said there was no initial indication of any such statements though he said more interviews would be conducted in the investigation. The sheriff’s statement also reported no possible motive or any apparent link to the mosque or those attending it.
“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,” Mascara said. “However, we are further investigating the incident and detectives will be interviewing the suspect, victim and (an) apparent witness that has now been identified by the Council of Islamic-American Relations.”
CAIR said there was a witness to the beating it identified as Abdul Rauf Khan, 43.
Reached by phone by The Associated Press, Khan said he was driving from his home in Boca Raton when it was nearing time for morning prayers around 4 a.m. Saturday. He stopped at the mosque and saw the victim in the parking lot struggling to enter his car after locking the keys inside. He said a man approached, began punching the victim in the face and knocked out one of the man’s teeth.
“He just start throwing punches and saying all kinds of foul language,” said Khan, adding he called 911.
The Council statement said the sheriff’s office has repeatedly ignored pleas to tighten security since Mateen fatally shot 49 people at a nightclub two weeks ago. “Unfortunately, our requests were repeatedly ignored,” said CAIR spokesman Wilfredo Amr Ruiz.
Mascara denied that, saying in his statement Saturday that he and his agency “have repeatedly attempted to communicate with the mosque to explore options of working together and there has been no response.” He previously said deputies are patrolling the mosque more frequently.