The U.S. Department of Justice is focusing not only on the prosecution of the surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect, but also protecting Muslims and other cultural groups from retaliation in the wake of such attacks, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said Monday.
In a speech to the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, Holder stopped short of saying he would pursue the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, saying only that he would hold the 19-year-old defendant, charged in Boston federal district court, accountable "to the fullest extent of the law."
"But I also want to make clear that—just as we will pursue relentlessly anyone who would target our people or attempt to terrorize our cities—the Justice Department is firmly committed to protecting innocent people against misguided acts of retaliation," Holder said.
Holder's speech alluded to media reports that Islamic extremism was the motivation for Tsarnaev and his brother to detonate the two bombs that killed three and injured more than 260 at the marathon finish line April 15.
Holder said the Justice Department has investigated more than 800 incidents in the past dozen years that involved threats, assaults, and acts of vandalism and violence targeting Muslims, Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians, and others who are perceived to be members of the groups. That includes the August 2012 shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., at a Sikh gurdwara that killed six worshipers and a responding police officer.
"I traveled to Oak Creek soon after and personally witnessed the terrible cost of hate-motivated violence—and the need to continue to foster close engagement among religious leaders, communities of faith, and law enforcement officials," Holder said. "Only by forging close bonds between these groups can we ensure the safety – and the civil rights—of everyone in this country who may be targeted simply because of who they are, how they look, or what they believe."
Holder concluded his speech with a call to honor the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings by meeting "fear with reason."
"And let us promote understanding, encourage open dialogue, and divert suspicious or prejudiced gazes with outstretched hands," Holder said. "This is how we will overcome adversity, and transform today’s pain into tomorrow’s progress.
"Together, we can move this country toward the day when being or appearing Jewish, Muslim, Arab, black, gay—or part of any other group, real or perceived—will not mean accepting a higher risk of becoming a victim of discrimination," Holder said.