Sikh Coalition: After Seattle attack we are vigilant


There are more than 500,000 Sikhs in the United States [File: George Widman/AP]

On Friday, as Deep Rai worked on his car in his driveway in the Seattle suburb of Kent, a man approached him and told him to "go back to your own country", according to witnesses.

Described as six feet tall, of stocky build, and wearing a mask over his face, the man then shot at Rai and fled the scene. The attacker is still at large, and local police have contacted the FBI for support.

Rai is recovering in hospital.

The apparent hate crime comes two weeks after Adam Purinton, a white US navy veteran, killed 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Kansas.

Purinton reportedly mistook Kuchibhotla for a man of Middle Eastern origin and shouted "get out of my country" before opening fire in a crowded bar, according to witnesses.

Reports of violence against minorities in the US have increased since the election of President Donald Trump, whose campaign emboldened the anti-immigrant far right.

In his bid to become president, Trump promised to ban Muslims from entering the US and derided refugees and immigrants, particularly those coming from Mexico.

Amid growing Islamophobia, other communities have also come under attack.

Rana Singh Sodhi holds a photograph of his murdered brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi [File: Ross D. Franklin/AP]

Friday's shooting has reminded many of the post 9/11 era, when Sikhs were frequently mistaken for Muslims, and attacked.

On September 15, 2001, Frank Silva Roque murdered Sikh American petrol station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi in a hate crime. Roque mistook Sodhi for an Arab Muslim; 20 minutes later he shot at a Lebanese American, but missed.

Al Jazeera asked Rajdeep Singh Jolly, interim director of programmes at the New York-based The Sikh Coalition civil rights group, about rising xenophobia and its effect on minorities.

Al Jazeera: The dangerous attack on Rai in Seattle followed the killing of an Indian man in Kansas, and dozens of other reports of violence against minorities. What do these attacks characterise?

Jolly: These attacks are part of a broader pattern of hate and violence against immigrants and religious minorities. What's particularly chilling is that in both cases - the anti-Sikh attack near Seattle and the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla - both men were told to "go back to their country".

Xenophobic political rhetoric is literally putting lives in danger.

Srinivas Kuchibhotla, right, poses for photo with his wife Sunayana Dumala in Cedar Rapids, Iowa [File: Kranti Shalia/AP]

Al Jazeera: The Sikh community in the US often comes under attack at the same time as rising Islamophobia. Why is this, and how can it be prevented?

Jolly: Sikhs are not targeted exclusively because of Islamophobia. For example in 1907, Sikh immigrants were assaulted in Bellingham, Washington, during an organised riot fuelled by xenophobia.

There is no doubt that anti-Sikh hate crimes and Islamophobia have accelerated in the post-9/11 environment, but it makes no difference to a bigot whether his victim is Muslim, Sikh or Jewish.