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US ‘hate speech’ attack: Two slain in Oregon stabbings that follow anti-Muslim rant

Three men are stabbed when they try to stop assailant harassing two apparently Muslim women
Stabbing suspect Jeremy Joseph Christian of North Portland, Oregon is pictured in this undated handout photo (Reuters)

A man fatally stabbed two passengers aboard a Portland, Oregon, commuter train when they tried to stop him from harassing a pair of apparently Muslim women, police said on Saturday.

The assailant was identified by police as Jeremy Joseph Christian of Portland, a 35-year-old convicted felon. He was arrested soon after the Friday afternoon attack.

The incident unfolded hours before the start of Ramadan, Islam's holy month, when most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims observe a daily religious fast.

It began when Christian started shouting ethnic and religious slurs, apparently directing them at two young women on the train, one of whom wore a Muslim head covering, the Portland Police Department said in a statement.

Three men who intervened were stabbed. One of them died at the scene while another died at a hospital, and the third was treated for non-life threatening injuries, police said. The two men who died were named as Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, a recent graduate of Reed College in Portland, and army veteran Ricky John Best, 53, a father of four.

The women "left before police arrived" on Friday but may be able to provide key evidence in the case that has shaken the vibrant city in the US's far northwest, Portland police spokesman Pete Simpson said at a news conference. 

"This suspect was on the train and he was yelling and ranting and raving a lot of different things, including what we characterised as hate speech," Simpson said.

"People approached him, tried to intervene with his behaviour ... they were attacked viciously by the subject, resulting in two deaths and one injury."

Christian was booked into jail on two counts of aggravated murder and charges of attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon. He was ordered held without bail.

Police declined to release details of Christian's prior criminal history. The Oregonian newspaper reported he had been convicted of robbery, kidnapping and weapon charges, citing court records. It was not immediately clear if he had obtained an attorney.

In a statement responding to Friday's attack, the Council on American-Islamic Relations blamed an increase in anti-Muslim incidents in the US in part on President Donald Trump's focus on militant Islamist groups and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

The administration has said that while it strongly opposes Islamist militants, it has no quarrel with Islam.

A Facebook page that appears to belong to Christian mentions "Jihadi Muslims" among people he dislikes. The image on the page matches the photo of Christian released by police after the suspect's arrest.

"If Donald Trump is the Next Hitler then I am joining his SS to put an end to Monotheist Question," a rambling post on 23 January reads.

The page includes images of Christian raising his right hand at a so-called "Free Speech" protest in Portland last month.

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