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Hate crimes against Muslims hit highest mark since 2001

Hate crimes against Muslims spiked last year to their highest level in more than a decade - an increase experts and advocates say was fueled by anger over terrorist attacks and anti-Islam rhetoric on the campaign trail.

Law enforcement agencies across the country reported 257 anti-Islamic incidents in 2015, up nearly 67 percent from the year before, according to FBI data released Monday.

That is significant in its own right, but even more so in historical context. The last time the FBI saw more than 160 anti-Islamic incidents was in 2001, when it reported 481. That was the year that radical Islamist terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, killing thousands and sparking a wave of anti-Muslim incidents.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that he believed that the anti-Muslim rhetoric that came out of the presidential campaign was to blame and that he feared there will be more hate crimes this year.

"Whenever you have one of the nation's leading public figures in the person of Donald Trump mainstreaming and empowering Islamophobia in the nation, it's the inevitable result," he said.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman did not immediately return an email seeking comment.

Hate crimes overall increased about 6.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, but that increase still left such incidents below what they were a decade earlier. Anti-black incidents rose by about 7.6 percent, anti-Jewish incidents rose by about 9 percent, and incidents based on sexual orientation rose by about 3.5 percent during that time frame.

Before and after Trump's election, there were reports of hateful acts across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center, drawing on news accounts, social media postings and direct reports, said it had tallied 201 incidents of election-related harassment and intimidation as of Friday. Last week, a Muslim student at San Diego State University reported that she was robbed by two men who made comments about Trump. Police believe she was targeted because she was wearing a hijab. The week before the election, a black church in Mississippi was burned and spray-painted with the words "Vote Trump."

During his campaign, Trump vowed to have law enforcement conduct surveillance at mosques and called for at least a temporary ban on Muslims immigrating to the United States, measures that he suggested might prevent terrorist attacks. Asked on "60 Minutes" about reports of supporters harassing Latinos and Muslims, he said: "I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, 'Stop it.' "

Notably, the data from 2015 does not show an increase in anti-Latino incidents from the year before. Still, advocates say Trump's rhetoric is at least partly to blame for the spike in other incidents.

"I don't think there's any question at all that the Trump campaign contributed and contributed mightily to these numbers," said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The data available is somewhat limited, analysts say, because law enforcement agencies provide numbers voluntarily to the FBI, and many did not report hate crimes. Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys show a far greater number of hate crimes than what is reported - hundreds of thousands each year.

The data largely confirms the findings of Brian Levin, a professor at California State University at San Bernardino, who wrote earlier this year about a surge in crimes against Muslims. In an interview Monday, Levin said he attributed the spike to three factors - anger after terrorist attacks like those in San Bernardino, Calif., and Paris; a generally elevated level of prejudice against Muslims; and "the coalescence of a sociopolitical movement that labels Muslims as an enemy."

Levin said he found a spate of anti-Muslim incidents in the weeks immediately following the attacks in San Bernardino and Paris. After Paris, for example, a Florida man threatened violence at two mosques in two anti-Islamic diatribes.

But Levin said he did not expect that those would make 2015 an anomaly. Based on 2016 data in places such as Ohio, Texas, Delaware and New York, he estimated that anti-Muslim hate crimes are "either at or above the levels of 2015."