One member of the mosque pleaded with police for protection: “Please take care of this issue seriously, for the sake of harmony and peace in our community.”
QUEENS, New York — A man accused of a brutal attack on a New York Islamic center has been granted “supervised release” while awaiting trial.
Witnesses to the April 19 incident say Mike Voyard entered the Jamaica Muslim Center in Queens, New York, during afternoon prayers and declared himself to be the Prophet Muhammad.
Mohammad Rahman, the center’s president, told WABC-TV that members of the congregation attempted to calm Voyard down after he began “asking for Koran to show proof that he’s the prophet.”
“Suddenly, he started punching, kicking to our elderly brothers and then whoever near to him,” Rahman said.
Two victims were taken to local hospitals with injuries, “including one who suffered a brain hemorrhage and was listed in serious condition,” the Queens Courier reported on April 26.
After being chased out of the mosque, Voyard reportedly stripped off his clothes. Police found him naked in the parking lot and placed him under arrest.
The Courier’s Robert Pozarycki reported that Voyard was released from jail this week pending trial on numerous charges, under New York’s “supervised release” program, which is designed to reduce unnecessary jail time. Instituted in the wake of cases like that of Kalief Browder, who killed himself after being held in Rikers Island jail for three years awaiting trial, conditions of release vary from case to case but can include check-ins via text message or in-person visits.
Voyard’s release has left members of the Islamic center fearing for their safety. “I would like to request the authorities, please take care of this issue seriously, for the sake of harmony and peace in our community,” Rahman told WABC-TV. “(We need) to protect Muslims and other innocent citizens from this kind of attack.”
Although Voyard’s charges include multiple counts of third-degree assault, criminal mischief and harassment, Rahman wants the attack investigated as a possible hate crime.
Local elected officials gathered at the center on April 22 to voice their support for the community. City Councilman Rory Lancman said:
“We come together today as one community to support Jamaica Muslim Center and those who were injured … This crime, including the potential bias motive, must be thoroughly investigated and the perpetrator brought to justice. We will not stand for violence in our sanctuaries.”
Islamophobic rhetoric and violent attacks on Muslims, their places of worship, and Muslim-owned businesses have been on the rise across the United States in recent months. An August report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations warned that although Islamophobia “goes through cycles of intensity” in the U.S., “[t]his latest cycle has had a more violent tone.”