By Barbara Goldberg
(Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday condemned the fatal stabbings of two Good Samaritans who tried to stop a man from harassing a pair of women who appeared to be Muslim, in a tweet issued days after an advocacy group urged Trump to condemn the attacks it said his anti-Muslim rhetoric had encouraged.
A third man who also came to the aid of the women suffered serious wounds in the attack on a Portland commuter train on Friday, hours before the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month. One of the women tearfully thanked the men for their sacrifice.
“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them,” Trump said in a Twitter message before taking part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
The tweet appeared only on Trump’s @POTUS account, which has about 12 million fewer followers than his better-known @realDonaldTrump account, where the president frequently expresses his personal views.
Trump’s message came days after the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the president to condemn the Oregon rampage and speak out against what the advocacy group sees as a rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment. Anti-Muslim incidents increased more than 50 percent in the United States last year, it said.
Immediately after the stabbings, CAIR National Executive Nihad Awad said Trump has stirred up bigotry and racism “through his numerous statements, policies and appointments that have negatively impacted minority communities.”
The suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, remained in custody on Monday and will appear in state court on Tuesday on aggravated murder and other charges.
A convicted felon from Portland, Christian was shouting ethnic and religious slurs to intimidate two women riding on a MAX light-rail train, according to one of the women and other witnesses.
“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia and that we shouldn’t be here and to get out of his country,” said Destinee Mangum, who was on the train with a friend wearing a Muslim head scarf.
“He was telling us that basically we weren’t worth anything and we should just kill ourselves,” she said in a video posted on CNN’s website on Monday.
Three men aboard the train intervened, with one of them saying, “You can’t disrespect these young ladies like that,” Mangum said in the video.
In a tear-choked voice, Mangum said she did not know the men and thanked them for putting their lives on the line.
“They lost their lives because of me and my friend and the way we look,” Mangum said.
The FBI is investigating the stabbings to determine whether to charge Christian with terrorism or a federal hate crime, said Portland FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele.
A Go Fund Me account set up for the families of the men killed in the attack raised more than $420,000 by midday Monday and another for the wounded man raised more than $175,000.
(This version of the article corrects paragraph four to read “12 million”)
(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Frank McGurty and Dan Grebler)