By K.C. Mehaffey / The Wenatchee World
CHELAN – The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for anti-Muslim slurs written on a rental car in Chelan last month.
On Sept. 1, offensive phrases were written in black marker on a BMW that was rented by several Seattle-area Muslims who were spending the day in Chelan.
An initial investigation by the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office found eight Muslims had prayed in a parking lot of a nearby motel before driving to the parking lot at Jet Skis Ahoy, at 1230 W. Woodin Ave. Authorities believed that the obvious Muslim prayer may have made them a target.
The FBI is investigating the incident as a potential hate crime.
Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett said his agency, too, considers the malicious mischief a potential hate crime. He said without information about the intent of the perpetrators and other factors, it’s difficult to know for certain.
“I’m not trying to minimize it,” he said. “We take a lot of things into account.”
Burnett said the sheriff’s office currently has no suspects, and has not talked to any witnesses. “We’re at a dead end, so that’s why the FBI is involved,” he said.
After learning of the incident, a Seattle branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote a letter to the FBI asking the federal agency to investigate.
Arsalan Bukhari, the group’s executive director, said he knew the FBI agreed, but was surprised to learn about the reward offer.
“We strongly support and deeply appreciate the role the FBI played, and the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office and Spokane office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington,” he said, adding, “We’re hoping that the community will now come forward and report any information they have that can lead to the arrest of whoever’s responsible. I think it is really going to be up to the average person who may have seen something.”
FBI Senior Agent Frank Harrill said the reward is being offered by the government.
In addition to witnesses, they’re looking for anyone who may have been operating a camera in the area.
Harrill said if someone has information about the incident, they can remain anonymous. “We will work out any process through which people feel comfortable providing information,” he said.
The incident occurred between 5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. when the vehicle was parked near the intersection of West Woodin Avenue and Waterslide Drive in Chelan.
Harrill said the FBI is working closely with the Chelan County Sheriff’s Office, which initially investigated the crime. He said they became involved with it as a civil rights issue.
“We all need to feel and be free to enjoy public facilities, activities and all the things we enjoy as citizens,” he said, adding, “When that’s impaired by violence or threats or property damage, we have to step in.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the FBI at 206-622-0460, or email Seattle.firstname.lastname@example.org.