OKLAHOMA CITY — An Islamic advocacy group and area mosques are withstanding “a large increase” in hate mail and angry phone calls since a man claiming to be a Muslim decapitated a woman at a food processing plant in suburban Oklahoma City last week.
Messages range from expressions of anger that local Muslims haven't done more than condemn last Thursday's attack to heated calls for a "purge" of the Islamic faith from America, said Adam Soltani, executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
About 40,000 Muslims live in Oklahoma.
Through mid-day Monday, Soltani estimated having received 50 hate-filled emails.
Soltani said area mosques have increased security, as has the state’s Islamic school, to deter retaliation. In the past, area mosques have been vandalized following widely publicized incidents blamed on Islamists, he said.
Oklahoma City Police Sgt. Gary Knight said he couldn’t discuss whether the department has increased patrols in response to the threats. “Our officers are aware of what’s going on, not only here but worldwide. They are certainly paying attention to it,” said Knight.
The city of Moore, where the attack occurred, has no mosques.
The hate mail and calls were incited by last Thursday afternoon's attack at Vaughan Foods Inc. Moore police say Alton Alexander Nolen, recently fired from his production line job, entered the front office with a knife, stabbing co-workers at random.
Colleen Hufford, 54, was beheaded in the attack. Traci Johnson, 43, was stabbed multiple times before Nolen was shot by the company's chief operating officer, who is also a reserve sheriff's deputy.
Authorities said Nolen, 30, was a recent convert to Islam and had been trying to convert coworkers, though they have not said what role, if any, that played in the assault.
Nolen remained hospitalized in Oklahoma City on Monday.
The attack in Moore came at a time when tensions are heightened nationally by terrorists in the Middle East who've publicly beheaded Western journalists and aid workers in retaliation for their countries' opposition to the radical Islamic State group. The United States and its allies have been targeting ISIS through air strikes.
Nationally, the Council on American-Islam Relations said it has received “hostile phone calls and emails” that contain “obscenities, of course, and a reference to what happened in Oklahoma,” said spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
In Hot Springs, Ark., the owner of a shooting range on Sunday declared her facility to be “a Muslim-free zone" on Facebook and on her blog, adding that her decision is in part due to “the barbaric act of beheading an innocent American in Oklahoma by a (M)uslim.”
In a statement released Monday, the Oklahoma Legislature's Counterterrorism Caucus tied last Thursday's attack — specifically Hufford's beheading — with attacks by the Islamic State group overseas.
Such attacks, the statement noted, are "associated with the supremacist Islamic code known as Shariah and the jihadism it demands of adherents."
The caucus goes on to warn of the threat posed by jihadists and followers of Shariah to the United States.
Soltani condemned Nolen’s attack — “This guy is not reflective of a Muslim at all,” he said — and added that he believes the angry messages are only representative of a few people.
“I have faith in Oklahomans …," he said. “Even though there are hateful people out there, and there are people who don’t know about our faith, we will get past this. We will come together as a people and work to not allow this to have a negative impact on our work.”
Soltani said it appears that Nolen learned about Islam in prison and started attending an Oklahoma City mosque in May. Nolen's extensive criminal history dates back before his apparent conversion and ranges from assaulting a peace officer to drugs.
Nolen's family has said he was raised a Christian.
“He comes from one background and seems to embrace another,” said Soltani. “How does he suddenly become representative of our faith? That seems quite unfair.”
Soltani referred to a Facebook page that is reportedly linked to Nolen and features extremist posts about the end of days, as well as a picture of jihadists carrying rocket launchers and guns.
Soltani said members of the local Islamic community have scoured the page and not found connections to Oklahoma's Muslim communities. He noted Muslim leaders always report radical and extremist posts to authorities.
Leaders of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, a mosque that Nolen reportedly attended, could not immediately be reached for comment.
But a statement on the society's website expressed “heartfelt condolences, and prayers” for the victims of last week's attack and their families.
"This unwarranted act does not represent Islam in any shape or form,” the statement reads. “We condemn, and are 100 (percent) against, the heartless and unnecessary act committed by the suspect. We stand for justice.”
Janelle Stecklein is the Oklahoma state reporter for CNHI's newspapers. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ReporterJanelle.