By Victoria Cavaliere
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Columbia University professor who wears a beard and turban in keeping with his Sikh religion was savagely beaten by teen attackers who shouted anti-Muslim taunts in what police described as a possible hate crime.
New York City police on Monday said they were searching for more than dozen teenagers involved in the beating that broke the jaw of Prabhjot Singh, 31, an assistant professor of international and public affairs at the Ivy League school, on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Singh was strolling near his home in nearby Harlem around 7 p.m. on Saturday when 15 to 20 teenagers on bicycles cornered him on the sidewalk, police said.
He was kicked and beaten, suffering injuries that required oral surgery, Singh said at a news conference on Monday.
"I heard 'get him.' 'Osama.' I heard 'terrorist.' And I felt someone grab my beard and a bike hit my chin," he said.
Three bystanders jumped into the fray to stop the assault, Singh said.
"I'm very grateful it wasn't any worse," he said.
Singh's friend, Simran Jeet Singh, a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, told Reuters he visited him in the hospital and described him as in "good shape. His spirits are high."
Last year, the pair co-authored a piece for The New York Times about hate crimes and anti-Sikh violence.
"It's a tough thing," Simran Jeet Singh said. "The Sikh tradition teaches us whatever the situation you face, you do it in high spirits. But that's not to dismiss the violence. We really need to redouble our efforts to create love and tolerance, not animosity and hatred."
Singh said he was also concerned that his friend's assault was being painted as a case of mistaken identity and that "somehow if he was Muslim that would have made it O.K."
The case was being investigated by the police department's hate crimes task force. No arrests have been made, police said.
New York City Comptroller and former mayoral candidate John Liu released a statement Monday, saying the attack was a "rude reminder that bigotry still exists and is often directed at Sikhs.
"Sikhs were heavily affected by hate crimes after the 9/11 attacks. Anyone with information about Saturday's vicious attack should contact the NYPD immediately," the statement said.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Ken Wills)