Kathy Stewart, wtop.com
WASHINGTON - Authorities are looking for the source of a letter threatening to kill a Sikh family in Sterling, Va. The investigation is in the initial stages.
An advocate against hate crimes says the family was only targeted because the visual tenets of their faith are confused with those of terrorist groups.
Jasjit Singh, associate executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, says Sikhs wear external symbols -- articles of their faith -- including turbans and beards, which some confuse for symbols of the Taliban or al-Qaida.
"Sikhs are not Muslims. They're not Arabs. They're not Hindus," he says. "They are from a completely separate and distinct faith."
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world and originated from South Asia.
Singh says the letter was addressed to the "Turban Family" and accuses them of being tied to the Taliban.
The family is remaining anonymous due to safety concerns because they have been targeted in the past.
"As early as 2005, they received similar death threats," says Singh. "There's serious concern that it may be same individual targeting them."
"Unfortunately it's not that uncommon," he says. "They're oftentimes confused for members of al-Qaida, the Taliban, Middle Easterners."
The Sikh community is speaking out now "to raise awareness about the challenges our community members are facing," he says.
He is calling on law enforcement to investigate this case as a hate crime. FBI hate crime statistics for 2010 show nearly 7,700 offenses, 20 percent of which were motivated by a religious bias.
The FBI is working with the sheriff's office on the case, says Loudoun County Sheriff's spokeswoman, Liz Mills.
"We really are limiting the amount of information we are releasing because of the nature of the investigation," she says.
The FBI says it is committed to protecting the civil liberties of all Americans and will investigate any violation of federal law.
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