Suspect arrested and charged with vandalizing Rutgers Islamic center, stealing Palestinian flag during Eid al-Fitr

A suspect has been charged with a federal hate crime after allegedly breaking into and destroying property at Rutgers University’s Center for Islamic Life.

The incident took place during Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Islamic religious celebration marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

Jacob Beacher, 24, was arrested Monday morning and charged with one count of intentional or attempted obstruction of religious practice and one count of making false statements to federal authorities, according to a news release from the US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.

Beacher is not affiliated with Rutgers University, according to a university spokesperson.

CNN has reached out to his defense attorney for comment.

Beacher broke into the Islamic center around 2:41 a.m. on April 10, the release said, where he damaged property “including several religious artifacts, such as Turbah prayer stones, which are clay stones on which Muslims prostrate during prayer, and numerous other items that contained holy language from the Qur’an, Islam’s sacred scripture.”

He also allegedly stole a Palestinian flag and a charity box from the center, the release said.

The current estimate of the damage is approximately $40,000, court documents show.

Beacher was captured on a video surveillance camera near the center, according to court documents. A donation box belonging to the center was later found at a park about a half mile away and “lawfully-collected historical cell-site data” showed Beacher’s phone was located at the same park shortly after the break-in, the complaint said.

Beacher will have his initial appearance in court Monday afternoon, the US Attorney’s Office said.

Atiya Aftab, chair of the Islamic center, said, “We express a sense of relief and safety knowing that the suspect is in custody” in a news release Monday.

“This act of terror will not intimidate or break our community. We stand in firm faith and with resolve to redouble our efforts to the mission of our center. This incident did not occur in a vacuum,” Aftab said.

In a statement, Rutgers University said the school “condemns this act of violence against the Rutgers–New Brunswick Muslim community and the desecration of a religious and community space.”

“Such acts of hatred and bigotry against anyone in our community have no place at Rutgers,” the school said. “We abhor all forms of intolerance based on religion, national origin, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, or political views.”

The break-in came after months of escalating tension following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and the resulting Israeli attacks on Gaza, which have killed more than 34,000 people.

In the US, tensions have manifested in attacks on Muslims and Arab Americans. In 2023, the Council on American-Islamic Relations received 8,061 complaints of anti-Muslim bias, CNN previously reported, which marked a 56% increase over the previous year.

In October, a 6-year-old Palestinian-American boy in Chicago was stabbed to death by his family’s landlord because he was Muslim, according to local police. And in November, three Palestinian college students were shot while on a walk in Vermont, leaving one of them facing paralysis.

CNN’s Zoe Sottile contributed to this report.

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