“Oh look, a f—ing terrorist,” they purportedly yelled. “Get the hell out of the country!”
She tried to ignore their taunts, she said, but that only made things worse. First they yanked on her bag, breaking the strap, then tried to rip her hijab off her head, Seweid told the New York Daily News on Dec. 3. Throughout the whole ordeal, she said, no one on the packed train came to her aid.
The highly publicized incident bore many of the same hallmarks as scores of other anti-Islamic hate-crime incidents reported in the wake of Donald Trump’s November victory in the presidential election.
But police now say it was all a lie.
On Wednesday, two weeks after the alleged attack, Seweid was arrested on misdemeanor charges of filing a false report and obstructing government administration, New York Police Department spokesman Adam Navarro told The Washington Post.
Navarro said he could not comment on the circumstances surrounding Seweid’s arrest. But the Daily News and DNAinfo, citing anonymous police sources, reported that Seweid admitted to police she fabricated her story because she was having family troubles at home.
It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Seweid had retained an attorney or entered a plea.
Seweid’s father, Sayeed Seweid, said he did not know why his daughter would have invented the attack.
“You try to raise your children as best you can,” he told DNAinfo. “She’s a bright, good girl. She’s young and maybe she was foolish here.”
“Young kids,” he added, “you don’t understand their mentality.”
Since Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, reports of hate crimes and election-related intimidation have surged across the country, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and other groups that track such incidents. Hate crimes against Muslims also spiked before 2016. Law enforcement agencies across the country tallied 257 anti-Muslim incidents in 2015, a 67 percent rise over the previous year, as The Post has reported.
New York City has not been exempt. From Election Day through the first week of December, when Seweid reported her attack, the city experienced a 115 percent rise in hate crimes, according to police. NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said in a news conference Dec. 5 that 43 hate crimes had been reported in that period, up from 20 during the same time last year.
The same week Seweid gave her story to police, two other Muslim women in New York said they were verbally and physically attacked because of their faith. In one incident, a Muslim police officer in Brooklyn said she was out of uniform and wearing a hijab when a man accosted her, yelling “ISIS” and “Go back to your country,” and threatened to slit her throat. Days later, a Muslim transit worker in Manhattan said a man shoved her on a flight of stairs, causing her to injure her ankle and knee. “You’re a terrorist, go back to your own country,” the attacker allegedly told the woman, who was wearing a hijab and heading to work at the time.
Muslim women elsewhere have reported being targeted because of their hijabs in recent weeks. A Muslim student at San Jose State University said she choked as a man pulled at her headscarf from behind during an attack on campus. And at San Diego State University, a student wearing a hijab told police she was robbed by two men who made comments about Trump and Muslims.
But the increased focus on hate crimes since the election has also given rise to fabrications. In November, a student at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette claimed to have been beaten, robbed and had her hijab ripped off by two men, one of whom was wearing a white “Trump” hat. After investigating the incident, local police said the woman “admitted that she fabricated the story about her physical attack as well as the removal of her hijab and wallet by two white males.”
When Seweid reported her alleged attack at the beginning of December, police opened a hate-crime investigation, according to DNAinfo. The following day, dozens of New Yorkers turned up at Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan in solidarity with her, carrying signs that read “Fight hate” and “#notinourcity.”
For nearly two weeks, the young woman stood by her story, even as police struggled to find video and witnesses who could corroborate what she said. Seweid even recounted the incident in an emotional Facebook post, according to BuzzFeed News.
“It breaks my heart that so many individuals chose to be bystanders while watching me get harassed verbally and physically by these disgusting pigs,” she wrote in the post, which has since been deleted. “Trump America is real and I witnessed it first hand last night! What a traumatizing night.”
As questions about her story mounted, Seweid last week went missing for two days, prompting a police search and stoking further doubts about the attack, according to the Daily News. She turned up safe in the early hours of Saturday morning, police said.
After her arrest Wednesday, Muslim advocates expressed concern that Seweid’s episode would hurt the credibility of real anti-Muslim attacks and other hate crimes.
“If you are having personal problems, want attention or need to raise awareness, crying wolf helps no one. In fact, it makes it worse,” attorney and journalist Wajahat Ali wrote on Facebook.
Albert Cahn, an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York, called for sympathy.
“Clearly this has been a trying time for her and her family,” Cahn told the Daily News. “We hope that they receive all possible support in this moving forward.”