NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Queens community came together Thursday to stand in solidarity with a man who was attacked and targeted allegedly because of his Muslim faith.

More than 100 people — neighbors, politicians and media — gathered at Fatima Food Mart in Astoria to declare the community will not tolerate hateful crimes and rhetoric, WCBS 880’s Ginny Kosola reported.

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This comes after the store’s owner, 53-year-old Sarker Haque, said he was attacked by a man who shouted “I kill Muslims” before beating him.

“I don’t expect you guys behind me. So, so happy,” Haque said, crying.

“I ask all my Muslim brothers and sisters not to be afraid,” he added. “This is my country. I was in this country when I was 21 years old.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, urged victims of hate crimes to report incidents to police or local religious groups.

Haque sustained a black eye, cuts and bruises in the Saturday attack.

“I thought he was gonna kill me,” he told CBS2 earlier this week.

Haque said he didn’t think twice when the nicely dressed man walked into his 21st Avenue store until he started acting strangely.

“He asked me, ‘Do you have anything free?’ I said, ‘What are you talking about, buddy? What are you asking?’” he said.

Then Haque said, out of nowhere, the man got violent and began punching him.

“I was screaming, ‘What the hell are you doing? What’s wrong with you, buddy?’ And again he was ready to punch and then he said, “I want to kill Muslims,” Haque said.

Haque said the man followed him behind the counter and continued punching him for several minutes until a customer came in and stopped the attack.

Police arrested 55-year-old Piro Kolvani and charged him with assault.

Kolvani told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he was trying to buy something in the store when he had an exchange with the clerk, but vehemently denied religion had any role. The Queens District Attorney’s Office has not determined if he’ll be charged with a hate crime.

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Kolvani was released and is due in court in January, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck reported.

Court records show Kolvani, a resident of Jacksonville, Florida, was arrested there after allegedly pulling his pants down in front of a Walmart store on Nov. 21.

Advocacy groups believe there has been a spike in anti-Muslim incidents across the United States in recent weeks that can be linked to last week’s mass shooting in California and the inflammatory rhetoric of Donald Trump and other Republican presidential candidates. And they say that Muslims are fearful the backlash could lead to further harassment and violence.

“The spike began with the Paris attacks and has intensified with what happened in San Bernardino and now with what Donald Trump is proposing,” Ibrahim Hooper, lead spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Wednesday. “I have never seen such fear and apprehension in the Muslim community, even after 9/11.”

The FBI, which keeps statistics on hate crimes committed nationwide, said data about 2015 will not be available until next year. But the Anti-Defamation League said it has tracked more than three dozen incidents since the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris that left 130 dead.

“We’re talking at least three dozen that we’re aware of and I’m sure there are many more incidents that haven’t been reported,” said Oren Segal, the director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “With legit terror attacks and the public discourse about them, it has created an atmosphere ripe for these types of stereotypes and incidents. People are exploiting them.”

Segal said that the pace of the incidents appears to have picked up since the Dec. 2 shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14 people and injured 21 others. The suspects, Syed Rizwan Farook, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, later died in a gun battle with police.

That incident prompted Trump on Monday to propose a complete ban on Muslim immigrants into the US, triggering a fierce debate that has dominated the national political conversation. Advocates say other GOP presidential candidates also have fueled anti-Islamic sentiment, including Ben Carson who suggested a Muslim should not be president and Rick Santorum who questioned whether the U.S. Constitution protected Islam.

“Unfortunately what we’re seeing now is the beginnings of a reaction to the hateful rhetoric that Donald Trump and others are pushing around this country that are inspiring lunatics to go target a group of people just because of their religion,” Gianaris told 1010 WINS. “The words that are being spoken in the presidential debate are having a real consequence on the ground, and not a good one. We have to stand up and make it clear that that does not represent what we believe and we need to change the nature of that discussion before things get out of hand.”

Among the incidents reported since the California shooting:

In Philadelphia, police have stepped up patrols around houses of worship after a severed pig’s head was left outside the Al Aqsa Islamic Society. Police are continuing to investigate; no arrests have been made.

A Florida man was arrested after authorities said he vandalized the Islamic Center of Palm Beach in North Palm Beach, Florida, on Friday. More than a dozen windows were broken.

The imam of an Islamic center in St. Louis, Missouri, told a local television station that someone claiming to be a former Marine left a threatening voicemail message on the mosque’s answering machine on Saturday. Fox 2 TV (KTVI), which obtained a copy of the recording, reported that the man said he “killed a lot of Muslims” and, using expletives, said he would decapitate Muslims.

Sometimes it’s hard for authorities to decipher whether the suspects are fueled by bigotry or whether there’s something else in play.

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