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Two men charged with hate crime in attack on Sikh in California

(Reuters) - Two men who are accused of attacking a Sikh man in California by punching him, knocking off his turban and cutting his hair were charged on Friday with assault as a hate crime, according to local media.

The attack followed a number of similar beatings of Sikhs in the United States over a period of more than a decade.

Hate crime-tracking groups say assailants have occasionally mistaken Sikhs for Muslims, who themselves have also been victimized in religiously motivated hate crimes.

It was not immediately clear if the two men charged on Friday had obtained an attorney and they could not be reached for comment.

The Sikh man, Maan Singh Khalsa, has told police he was in his car at a red light in the San Francisco suburb of Richmond on Sept. 25 when someone in a truck threw a beer can at him, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Khalsa, 41, got out of his car and flung the can back. When he drove off, the men in the truck followed him, according to local media.

They caught up to him at an intersection, and two men exited the vehicle and punched Khalsa through his open window, knocking off his turban, the Chronicle reported, citing prosecutors.

Prosecutors say one of the assailants, Chase Bryan Little, 31, cut Khalsa’s hair with a knife, according to the Chronicle.

“The savage cutting of Mr. Khalsa’s unshorn hair, a sacred article of his faith, constitutes a hate crime under the law,” Simon O’Connell, a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney, said in a statement to local media.

A representative for the District Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment.

Little and a second man, Colton Tye Leblanc, 24, were charged on Friday with assault by means to produce great bodily injury and assault with a deadly weapon, according to documents posted on the website of San Francisco television station KQED.

The charges carried hate crime enhancements, the charging documents said.

Little, who was arrested after the attack, and Leblanc, who is still outstanding, are from Texas and were in California to work at a refinery, according to local media.

The New York-based Sikh Coalition said in a statement on its website it had joined with civil rights groups in urging prosecutors to file hate crime charges in the attack on Khalsa, who was said to be an information technology specialist.

Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Tom Hogue