TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona State University police have arrested a man they say is responsible for damaging Islamic literature and a copy of the Quran at the campus library.
Police are investigating a motive for damage at the Hayden Library's interfaith room on Wednesday. Before the arrest, the Council on American-Islamic Relations called it a hate crime and the ASU Muslim Students Association posted photos of burned and torn pages with Arabic writing and damage to a wall.
The association said in a statement the room “is largely used by Muslim students gathering for prayer and is a well-known place for students to find a few moments (of) peace and reflection on campus."
Officers on Thursday arrested a 38-year-old homeless man after a witness saw him tear up several magazines and books and reported it to library staff, according to court records and a statement from ASU police. Officers connected him to the earlier damage of Islamic materials through surveillance footage.
Authorities determined the suspect had outstanding felony and misdemeanor warrants and had a trespass warning to stay away from the ASU campus through 2022. He was arrested on the warrants and drug possession charges for a glass pipe and methamphetamine they say he was carrying, according to court records.
“There is no room or tolerance at ASU for this type of damaging behavior,” ASU Police Chief Michael Thompson said in a statement.
Sasha Uddin, director of education for the ASU Muslim Students Association, said members of the group were heartened by the response from administrators and campus police. She said police took the incident seriously and made a quick arrest, pledged to handle the damaged Quran — which was taken as evidence — respectfully and said they would continue discussions about the safety of Muslims on campus.
“I cannot stop hate crime from happening or any sort of backlash from happening, but knowing the faculty and the ASU police will do what’s necessary for me to get any justice that’s needed makes me feel pretty safe,” Uddin said.
With the suspect identified, Uddin said it's not clear yet whether it should be labeled a hate crime. But she said the association wants to “move forward with solidarity and with forgiveness” and she hopes it demonstrates Islam's commitment to forgiveness and not escalating tensions.
Azza Abuseif, executive director of the Arizona office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the university and law enforcement must ensure a safe learning environment for students of all faiths. She urged law-enforcement to treat it as a hate crime.
“I have a hard time believing it wasn’t targeted toward the Muslim community because it is the holy book,” Abuseif said. “It's not just some random book that you found and burned. I do think it was intentional.”
Arizona law does not have a hate crime category for investigations, but authorities can consider prejudicial motivations as an aggravating factor, said Adam Wolfe, a spokesman for ASU police.
"At this stage, we still don’t know the motives behind this incident," Wolfe said in an email.
He said educational aids were “heavily damaged” including books, magazines and a Quran, along with library infrastructure.
This story has been corrected to fix the name of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.