An Iraq War veteran and Army reservist who works as a taxi driver says a passenger accused him of being a terrorist because he is Muslim, and then assaulted him and fractured his jaw in Virginia early Friday.
The taxi driver, Mohamed Salim from Great Falls, is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a married father of four who emigrated from Somalia 15 years ago. As an Army Reserve sergeant, Salim served in Baghdad and the U.S. military facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, working in intelligence and as a linguist.
After picking up the passenger, Ed Dahlberg of Clifton, at a Northern Virginia country club around 2 am, Salim told the passenger he could not enter the cab with an open can of beer. Dahlberg then started complaining that the time had expired on the taxi's meter, Salim said in an interview with the Washington Post.
Salim also said that he sensed that his passenger was going to be trouble. He then recorded an 11-minute, obscenity-laced video of Dahlberg’s remarks prior to the assault:
"If you’re [expletive] Muslim, you’re a [expletive] jihadist," Dahlberg said in the video. "You are just as bad as the rest of them."
Toward the end of the video, Salim asks the passenger, "Why are you punching me? Sir, why are you punching me?”
"You’re a [expletive] Muslim," Dahlberg said.
Salim also says Dahlberg, who owns Manassas-based Emerald Aviation, threatened to kill him and compared him to the men accused of carrying out the Boston Marathon bombing last month. The video, however, does not capture the Boston bombing accusation, the threat to kill or alleged punch that fractured his jaw.
According to the Washington Post, Salim said the passenger left the cab briefly but returned, hit him and then ran into the woods.
Medical records show that Salim was treated for a fractured jaw and a head injury.
"I served the country, I sacrificed my life for this country and I love America," said Salim in an interview with Piers Morgan on CNN. "When this guy, the way he was accusing me because I'm simply a Muslim and that's really really hurtful."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who are currently representing Salim, says Dahlberg should be charged with a hate crime.
"It's a bit ironic that in the military Mohamed's job was to equip his unit with cultural and religious understanding," CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas said to the New York Daily News article. "A cross-cultural specialist in the military was subject to the ugly prejudice of a person he was serving.
Dahlberg's attorney, Demetry Pikrallidas, described his client as a "hardworking family man and a church-going person," and stressed that the video recorded showed the ride began with friendly conversation, according to the Post.
He maintained that Dahlberg did not assault Salim, but "became rather emotional as the discussion turned to jihad and 9/11, and especially on the subject of jihadists who want to harm America."
He also said his client wanted to apologize to anyone offended by his remarks that night.
Although the alleged attacker has been charged with misdemeanor assault, the heart of the attack was a hate crime and should be tried on the basis of Virginia's hate crime law in addition to the charges already filed against the passenger.