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Police investigate vandalism of Muslim man’s car in Watertown as possible hate crime

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An act of vandalism and a hateful message left on the vehicle of a black Muslim immigrant have left a Watertown man shaken and have prompted what a state agency says may be the Watertown Police Department’s first investigation of a hate crime in five years.

The vehicle of Issa Alzouma, a native of Niger who has lived in the city for about three years, was damaged at his home early Saturday.

The truck, a 2003 Chevrolet Avanlanche, sustained about $3,200 worth of damage, according to Mr. Alzouma. The truck’s windshield was shattered and the front- and back-seat windows on the driver’s side were smashed.

A note containing racial slurs written in marker was tucked under the car’s windshield wipers.

“U (expletive) (racial slur) I know where u work too!!! U better watch your back!!!” the note said, according to a transcript in a police report Mr. Alzouma showed the Times. “(Expletive) Muslim and (racial slur)! Quit your job or else.”

Since the incident, Mr. Alzouma has been on paid leave from his job with Securitas Security Systems at the Dulles State Office Building because of the nature of the threat.

On Tuesday, Watertown Police Detective Sgt. Joseph R. Donoghue said the department’s investigation was in its early stages, and part of its review is determining whether the incident is a hate crime.

“We try to put as much effort into all of the crimes we’re investigating, these type of serious cases,” he said. “We go where the evidence leads us.”

Mr. Alzouma said a member of Watertown Police Department informed him police are treating the incident as a hate crime, which would be the first incidence of such a crime for the department since 2008, according to data from the state Division of Criminal Justice.

State penal code states that a hate crime occurs when a person commits an offense involving violence, intimidation or property damage because of the actual or perceived background of the victim.

In addition to the city police’s 2008 report, the division said, state police in Jefferson County dealt with a report in 2012, and another one in 2008.

After living in America for a few years as a child and returning to Niger, Mr. Alzouma has lived in the United States as a legal resident since 2005.

He first did court security work in New York City and its Bronx borough for about six years, before moving to Watertown.

In Niger, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Abdou Moumouni University, and he can speak six languages, including French, Arabic and multiple African dialects. He also volunteers at the Islamic Center of Northern New York.

Mr. Alzouma said if the vandals are found, he would want to know why they did what they did. In the meantime, the targeted nature of the vandalism against him and the lack of answers so far have left Mr. Alzouma worried.

“I really don’t know, and that’s the problem,” he said.

“Even now, I get sad and depressed,” Mr. Alzouma said Monday. “I’ve worked with Americans many times. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

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