A Muslim store owner was attacked in Queens in what police are investigating as a bias crime, authorities say.
A man walked into the Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue in Astoria on Saturday and yelled that he wanted to "kill Muslims," then repeatedly punched the owner, according to police and the owner.
Sarker Haque, who still had bruises on his face from the attack Wednesday, told NBC 4 New York his attacker walked in, looked over the newspapers and held one up. On the cover was the attack in San Bernardino.
"He said, 'Is everything free in this store?' I said, 'What?'" recounted Haque. "Then he don't say nothing, he just walk around all the way back there."
The man's behavior turned erratic as he walked around the store asking for free items. He then started attacking Haque, punching him and throwing him to the ground behind the counter, Haque said.
"He punched me and I fell down, and then he said, 'I'm gonna kill Muslims," said Haque.
A customer walked in soon after and helped to restrain the suspect, who was later arrested and charged with assault, police said. The attack is being investigated as a hate crime.
"We should be all together. We are in America," said Haque. "Everybody came to America from somewhere else. We have to be together."
City leaders gathered at the store Thursday in support of Haque, who has been a longtime part of the community. Muslim neighbors were also there, appealing for better understanding.
"The real Muslims, they don't kill, they don't do bombs, they don't hate other religions," said Fatima Amazian.
Amazian, who has called Haque a neighbor since arriving to the U.S. in 1998, said she has never felt as scared as she does now.
Ahmed Jalil of the Muslim American Society said the attack on Haque has also alarmed other Muslim business owners.
"It scares other businesspeople, 'I shouldn't be alone in the store,'" he said.
The Anti-Defamation League condemned the attack in a statement.
"This horrible attack, apparently motivated by anti-Muslim animus, is one of a string of attacks against the Muslim community in recent weeks as troubling rhetoric continues to intensify," said ADL New York Regional Director Evan R. Bernstein.
An emotional Haque said at the rally, "I ask all my Muslim brothers and sisters not to be afraid. This is my country."
ADL said it's concerned over escalating hostility against Muslims living in the U.S. in the wake of recent acts of terror in Paris and San Bernardino. Republican presidental frontrunner Donald Trump has also stoked tension with his harsh rhetoric, particularly his proposal Monday to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
The proposal, while roundly and swiftly criticized by both Democrats and Republican — including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — has nevertheless raised concerns about creating an environment in which Muslims are being targeted.
A mosque in Jersey City, home to a large Muslim population, has been getting hate mail and phone threats, NBC 4 New York first reported Tuesday, prompting concerned religious leaders to meet with community officials and police Wednesday.
In New York City, religious leaders and elected officials gathered on the steps of City Hall Wednesday to decry his "hateful" rhetoric and "xenophobic and racist" proposal.
"There is nothing left to say about Donald Trump other than that he is a disgusting, racist demagogue who has no business running for president, period," said City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito, who previously announced her support for Hillary Clinton for president.