A man in California deliberately ploughed his car into a group of eight pedestrians because he thought some of them were Muslim, local authorities have said.
Isaiah Joel Peoples, 34, faces eight counts of attempted murder for injuring eight people, including a 13-year-old girl, after he deliberately veered his car into the pedestrians.
According to the AP news agency, the teenage girl was the most seriously injured in the incident and is currently in a coma with severe brain trauma.
Three adults also remain in hospital with injuries that include broken limbs and fractures.
Jay Boyarsky, the chief assistant district attorney for Santa Clara, said the charges carry a sentence of life in prison and he will file hate crime allegations if warranted.
“There is very appalling and disturbing evidence that at least one or two of these victims were targeted based on the defendant’s view of what their race or religion may have been,” he said.
Phan Ngo, the chief of Sunnyvale’s Department of Public Safety, said that Peoples showed no remorse after his car hit the victims.
“He targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim Faith. We will be providing support to our diverse communities,” he wrote on Twitter.
“There is absolutely no tolerance for hate in our community”.
Witness Don Draper said when he marched over to Peoples’ car after he crashed, he found the driver muttering over and over, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.”
His family told the AP that Peoples, an Iraq war veteran, experienced post-traumatic stress disorder after serving in Iraq.
His lawyer, Chuck Smith, said that the crash was in no way deliberate, claiming it “was clearly the product of some mental disorder or mental defect.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has also documented a sharp rise in hate incidents following President Donald Trump‘s election in November 2016, with the number of active hate groups peaking at an all-time high of 1,020 in 2018.