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Texas stabbing of Palestinian American probed as bias crime, police say

By Kanishka Singh and Julia Harte

(Reuters) - Police in Austin, Texas, said on Tuesday that they were investigating a reported stabbing of a Palestinian-American man over the weekend by a white suspect as a "bias-motivated incident" and that a hate-crime panel would review the case.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) advocacy group said a group of Muslim Americans were driving home from a pro-Palestinian protest on Sunday when the suspect attacked their vehicle at a stop sign.

The suspect, identified by police as Bert James Baker, shouted obscenities, attempted to rip a "Free Palestine" flag from their car and stabbed a 23-year-old Palestinian-American in the chest, CAIR said.

Police provided no details about the victim. His father, Niza Doar, identified him as Zacharia Doar. The father told a CAIR-hosted press conference on Tuesday his son was trying to subdue Baker when he was stabbed and suffered a broken rib.

Zacharia Doar underwent surgery and was recovering at the hospital on Tuesday, the father said.

Baker was arrested on Sunday evening, booked into county jail and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, police said on Tuesday. Baker could not immediately be reached for comment. It was unclear whether he had legal representation.

"Based on the information we received, we believe the February 4, 2024 incident to be bias-motivated and will be reviewed by the Hate Crimes Review Committee," a police statement said.

Human rights advocates cite a rise in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian bias and antisemitism in the U.S. that began with a Palestinian Hamas attack on Oct. 7 in which 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli tallies.

Israel has responded with a ground and air attack on Hamas-ruled Gaza, killing more than 27,000 people, according to the local health ministry.

At the CAIR press conference livestreamed from Austin, the victim's father said his son blamed President Joe Biden for the attack, citing a message from his son to the president saying: "'If you would have called for a ceasefire three months ago, this would have never happened.'"

Previous U.S. incidents include a November shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Vermont and the fatal October stabbing of a 6-year-old Palestinian American in Illinois.

Separately on Tuesday, the Muslim Legal Fund of America said the U.S. Department of Education was investigating accusations Harvard University failed to protect pro-Palestinian students from threats. A similar probe is under way into a complaint on behalf of Jewish students.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington and Julia Harte in New York; Editing by Howard Goller)