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NBPD investigates what group calls racial attack

Balboa Peninsula Business owner says he helped victim, not beat him, as alleged.

March 29, 2011|By Sarah Peters, sarah.peters@latimes.com

Editor's note: This version clarifies and restores comments made by Munira Syeda, spokeswoman for CAIR's Greater Los Angeles chapter office.

NEWPORT BEACH — The owner of a Newport Beach cigar lounge on Tuesday denied a claim made by a civil rights organization that he was among a group of men who beat up a Muslim taxi driver outside his business earlier this month.

Edgar Uria, who owns the La Habana Cigar Co. at 107 Palm St. on the Balboa Peninsula, where the March 19 incident was reported, told the Daily Pilot that the allegations made against him by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) were false.

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"I don't understand how a respectable organization like CAIR can take the word of one individual and plaster it all over the Internet without not once contacting me or seeing a police report," Uria said.

He said he witnessed an altercation around 11 p.m. that Saturday between the taxi driver and a group of men, and tried to intervene and help the cabbie.

"I can't help but think, 'What do you do the next time?'" Uria said. "You're trying to be a good Samaritan, and it blows up in your face."

Police are investigating the incident, which was initially reported as battery, but no arrests have been made, said Newport Beach Sgt. Steve Burdette.

No arrests were made that night because of conflicting statements from the victim, suspects and witnesses, Burdette said.

At least one official with CAIR's Greater Los Angeles chapter office told reporters that the lounge's owner had helped perpetrate a racist attack on the Muslim cab driver on March 19.

CAIR officials said the organization has called on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case as a possible hate crime directed against a Muslim.

Affad Shaikh, civil rights manager for CAIR's L.A.-area chapter, said that four men, including the business' owner, were involved in a verbal and physical attack on the cabbie, and that racial slurs were also directed at the cabbie.

"Given our concerns in the case expressed by the victim, we hope the aspects of case are looked into as a potential hate crime," Shaikh said.

CAIR claims that the driver was asked about his nationality and religion before some men started beating him up.

The driver was allegedly told, "'We're going to f--- you up the way we f---ed up your country,'" Shaikh told the Pilot.

The men beat the victim until Uria called a stop to it, saying, "We've f---ed him up enough," Shaikh had said.

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