Muslim students at University of Connecticut received threats over Israel-Gaza war

Lena Maarouf, a former leader of a pro-Palestinian student group, received a threatening voicemail
Lena Maarouf, a former leader of a pro-Palestinian student group, received a threatening voicemail

Muslim students at the University of Connecticut have received violent threats over the Israel-Gaza war and are pushing for protection.

At a news conference on Thursday, a former leader of a pro-Palestine campus group played a voicemail she received which included a racial slur.

The university's Muslim Student Association said it received an email mocking dead Palestinians, as well.

The messages were reported to campus and state police and the FBI.

The University of Connecticut, also known as UConn, "unequivocally condemns Islamophobia, just as it condemns antisemitism and all forms of hatred", a school spokesperson said.

Both Muslim and Jewish groups in the US have recorded spikes in incidents of hate and harassment since the 7 October attacks by Hamas that ignited a war where thousands have been killed.

Lena Maarouf said she graduated from UConn in 2022 but her phone number was still listed on the website for a group that she formerly led, Students for Justice in Palestine.

The man who left the voicemail message called her a "terrorist", used a racial slur and said: "I can't wait to see you dead."

The call came from an Oklahoma area code, and the threatening email came from a Yahoo email domain, the students said.

"The Muslim community does not feel supported, the Palestinian community does not feel supported," Ms Maarouf said during the news conference on the UConn campus in Storrs, Connecticut. "UConn needs to step up."

Muslim student leaders and the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), a Muslim civil rights group, called on the university to provide educational programmes about the conflict and about Islam, and to provide security assurances for Muslim students.

"No young person seeking an education should feel threatened because of their race, religion, background or political views," said Farhan Memon, chairperson of Cair's Connecticut chapter.

In a statement, UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said the school recognises the concern about the messages, and that a teach-in on the conflict was held on campus last week.

"We recognize the concern generated by the messages, and we join others in condemning the hateful sentiments in the strongest terms," Ms Reitz said.

The BBC has contacted the FBI's Connecticut office for comment.

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said last week that he is organising a meeting of university security officials on dealing with hate crime on college campuses across the state.

UConn campus
The University of Connecticut campus in Storrs

Spike in hate

On Thursday, Cair said it received 1,283 complaints in the month after the Hamas assault on Israel on 7 October, compared to 63 reports in the month of August. The incidents included threats, use of weapons, and a knife attack outside Chicago which killed a six-year-old boy and seriously injured his mother.

Last month the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organisation, said that it had recorded 30 incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assault in the weeks after the 7 October Hamas attacks, an increase of nearly 400% over the same period last year.

Last month a student at Cornell University in New York State was arrested after allegedly posting violent threats against Jewish students.

Prosecutors say Patrick Dai, 21, made threats to bring a gun to the Cornell University campus and rape Jewish women and "behead any Jewish babies".