By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A man has been arrested on suspicion of committing an anti-Muslim hate crime and another was being sought by authorities in connection with the weekend stabbing of a worshiper near a Southern California mosque, police said on Monday.
Coming amid a surge in harassment and intimidation of Muslims reported by the FBI, the incident occurred late Saturday night outside the Masjid Al-Rasool mosque in the town of Simi Valley, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles, according to police Commander Robert Brill.
The confrontation began as a verbal altercation that escalated into a physical fight between the two suspects and the victim, who had attended prayer services at the mosque that evening, and a number of his friends, Brill said.
Officers responding to the incident found the victim suffering from non-life-threatening stab wounds, but the two suspects had fled, Brill said.
One, identified as 29-year-old John Matteson, was later located and taken into custody. He was booked into the Ventura County jail on felony charges of committing a hate crime and making criminal threats, as well as a misdemeanor charge of disturbing the peace, Brill said.
Matteson was expected to make his initial court appearance on Tuesday.
The hate-crime allegation against him was based on derogatory statements he was accused of making about the mosque, as well as the proximity of the incident to the mosque and the fact that the victim was a worshiper there, Brill told Reuters.
The second man, also in his late 20s, was still at large, the commander said. Police provided no further details about the circumstances of the stabbing.
The Los Angeles Daily News reported the incident began when Matteson approached the mosque on Saturday night asking to use the restroom and was turned away with the explanation that the bathroom was not open to the public.
The suspect, who reportedly smelled of alcohol, returned with another man and began insulting members of the mosque with racial slurs and threw a bottle that struck a worshiper in the face, prompting a fight in which the suspect stabbed another worshiper.
Civil rights groups have voiced alarm at what they say has been a spike in attacks targeting Muslims, Hispanics, blacks and other minorities since the Nov. 8 presidential election victory of Republican Donald Trump.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation reported last month that 2015 saw a 67 percent increase from the previous year in hate crimes against Muslims.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Andrew Hay)