Comments by Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich about Wednesday’s shootings in San Bernardino have elicited ire from Muslim community leaders. But the Republican supervisor insists he stands by his remark.
In a speech to constituents after the shooting, Antonovich said, “The first thing I asked about this incident, was the guy named Muhammad?”
Antonovich, who represents the northern reaches of the county, spoke at the West Ranch Town Council meeting that night and talked about the attack that killed 14 people in San Bernardino earlier that day. Brandon Lowrey, a reporter who was at the meeting as a freelancer for the local SCV Reader, tweeted the “Muhammad” comment. Antonovich has confirmed making the comment.
It upset some who said it unfairly singled out Muslims over other perpetrators of mass shootings.
“That is an insensitive statement coming from somebody in power like the supervisor,” said Kamal al-Khatib, president and co-founder of American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley, in Palmdale.
Al-Khatib said Muslims are fearful of backlash stemming from the attack. “We are a victim too. Every time something happens, we are another victim.”
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, said his organization has heard of an increase in threats against mosques and Muslim community members since Wednesday’s shooting rampage. He said some Islamic schools closed Thursday and mosques took extra security precautions.
“During these challenging times, our country needs real leaders, not self-serving, immoral politicians who exploit people’s anxiety and fear to fuel the phobia and paranoia,” he said. “I’m sure he didn’t ask on the weekend when there was a shooting in Colorado Springs if the shooter’s name was Michael, because I know I didn’t ask that.”
In an emailed response to a request for comment by The Times, Antonovich wrote, “Radical Islamists have declared War on the United States.”
He went on to cite attacks by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born U.S. citizen who gunned down five servicemen in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July; a stabbing attack on four people by 18-year-old UC Merced student Faisal Mohammad, of Santa Clara, last month; and the recent terrorist attack in Paris that killed 130 people, for which Islamic State claimed responsibility.
The two assailants in the San Bernardino mass shooting that killed 14 have been identified as Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Maliki, 27. Both were killed in a shootout with police.
Farook worked for the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health and killed co-workers in the attack, which started at the Inland Regional Center, a facility that provides services to people with developmental disabilities.
He was described by acquaintances as a devout Muslim. Authorities are investigating a possible terrorism link in the shooting rampage but have not given a definitive explanation of the motive.
Local Muslim leaders decried the attack.