Two Muslim Students Stabbed in Fremont in Possible Hate Crime by Sunita Sohrabji

“My brother’s wounds will eventually heal, but the trauma will remain for a very long time.” – Arfat Yafai, brother of Khalid Yafai, who remains on a ventilator in the ICU after undergoing three surgeries.

Two Muslim students from the South Indian state of Telangana, were stabbed multiple times, police announced Nov. 20.

In interviews with Ethnic Media Services, one of the victims, his brother-in-law, and the brother of a second victim all said they believe the brutal attacks are hate crimes. The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it has received 1,283 requests for help and reports of bias since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, a rise of 216%.

Fremont Police Department spokeswoman Sgt. Kim Macdonald told Ethnic Media Services that the case was not being investigated as a hate crime, because it does not meet the penal code definition of a bias-related crime. No motive has yet been established for the attack, she said.

Fremont police have charged suspect Miguel Angel Villareal, 28, with one count of attempted 1st degree murder. The case has been presented to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office. Villareal was booked into Santa Rita Jail Nov. 18, and is being held without bail. He will be arraigned Nov. 22.

Motive Not Established

In a tearful interview at his home here, Shadan Syed, 24, told EMS he had come to the US just three months earlier to pursue his Masters degree in engineering. “The US is a land of opportunity and prosperity. I had hoped for great things here,” he said.

On Nov. 17, Syed, and his cousin Khalid Yafai, and their friend Sufiyan Mohammad were at the Fremont Hub, a busy town attraction with lots of restaurants and shops. Suddenly, a man came out of nowhere, Syed said. “He came in front of me. I thought he was going to punch me, but he stabbed me.”

“He was silent as he stabbed me. He didn’t say anything,” said Syed, adding that he had seen the suspect on at least three occasions previously. Syed managed to flee his attacker, and ran into a store. He found Yafai on the ground in a pool of blood. Mohammad, who was inside another store, heard shouts and ran over to his friends’ side. He called Syed’s brother-in-law Junaid, and 911.

Months to Recover

Syed and Yafai were transported to the San Jose Regional Medical Center’s Trauma Unit. Syed, who was stabbed in the chest, was treated for his wounds and released. He identified the suspect through a series of photos police showed him.

Yafai — who was stabbed in the neck, and on both sides of his back as he attempted to flee from his attacker — was placed on a ventilator, as he is incapable of breathing by himself. He has since undergone three surgeries. His brother, Arfat Yafai, told EMS that Khalid would spend at least one more week at the hospital. Doctors have told him that it will take several months for Khalid to fully recover. The 24-year-old can only speak through small hand gestures, indicating when he is in pain.

‘Why Was My Brother Targeted?’

Arfat Yafai has not yet told his mother and father in India about the stabbing, fearing that the shock will be too much for them. He is trying to get them visitors’ visas to the US so that they can see their son and aid in his recovery. With EMS’s assistance, Arfat and community leader Mateen Syed have connected with California Rep. Ro Khanna’s office, in an attempt to expedite the visa process, which will be handled by the US Consulate in Hyderabad.

Shadan and Junaid Syed, Arfat Yafai, and Mohammad want Fremont police to investigate the case as a hate crime. “What other explanation could there be?” queried Arfat Yafai, noting that his brother wears a full beard, clearly identifying him as Muslim. “There were so many people at the Hub that afternoon, but this man went after my brother and Shadan. Why else would he target them?”


“My brother’s wounds will eventually heal, but the trauma will remain for a very long time,” said Arfat Yafai. “Even when his stitches are removed, the marks will remain, and remind him of what he has gone through.”

Shadan Syed said he has been unable to sleep since the attack. Despite painkillers, he still lives with a great deal of physical and emotional pain, with nightmares of the stabbing haunting him.

Mental Illness

Fremont City Councilman Raj Salwan, who worked with Fremont Police Chief Sean Washington to expedite the case, told EMS it is unlikely that Villareal will be charged with a hate crime. “This is a case involving a severely mentally ill man,” he said, adding that California and Alameda County must devote more resources to treating mentally ill residents.

To convict someone of a hate crime, the offense must be motivated, in part, by a perpetrator’s intolerance against someone’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity, notes the FBI on its website. In clear-cut cases, the attacker might shout out disparaging language during the crime. However, bias-related crimes are rarely clear-cut.

Stop the Hate

Community leader Mateen Syed told EMS he has lived in Fremont for several years, and has raised his family here. “I am very proud of my beautiful city,” he said.

The Muslim American community is currently living under the specter of fear. “We are very disheartened to hear that two young students who came to the US to study were stabbed. We must address the root cause of why this has happened,” he said.


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