The shooting that wounded two young Muslim men in Minneapolis early Wednesday will be investigated as a possible hate crime, Minneapolis police confirmed Thursday.

Authorities announced that possible bias will be part of the investigation just before the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a news conference urging police and the FBI to look closely at whether the shooting was the result of anti-Muslim sentiment.

In the attack, which happened about 2 a.m. Wednesday near the University of Minnesota, an assailant allegedly made disparaging remarks about Muslims before opening fire on five young men clad in Muslim prayer robes called qamis. Two of the men, ages 22 and 19, were wounded when bullets struck them in the leg.

Minneapolis police said they are looking at the shooting as a possible "bias-motivated crime." No one has been arrested, and no suspects have been publicly identified.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN, said his organization has seen a sharp increase in Islamophobia and hate crimes in the past few months, and said anti-Islam rhetoric that has been part of the presidential race may have contributed to that spike.

Hussein cited an incident from last winter at a Coon Rapids Applebee's in which a 43-year-old Ramsey woman was charged with attacking fellow restaurant patron Asma Jama for speaking Swahili. More often, though, Hussein said he hears from children who are bullied at school for wearing headscarves and other traditional clothing, then called "ISIS."

Of Wednesday's attack, he said, "Unfortunately, with the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in America, and especially with political rhetoric, our biggest fear of potential backlash [has occurred].

"[The victims] were targeted for being a Muslim," he said. "They did not antagonize. This was literally a clear profiling of them, harassing of them and shooting of them. This is a clear hate crime."

The two men who were shot were among five riding in a car headed to the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center at 2824 13th Av. S. early Wednesday. They were returning to the mosque for overnight prayers, Hussein said.

A week remains of Ramadan, a holiday stretch where Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. It is not unusual for observers to be awake for services between midnight and 3 a.m., Hussein said. It appears the men had left the mosque after earlier prayer sessions to play basketball before coming back for sunrise services.

The victims told police that as they were stopped at a corner near 14th Avenue and 6th Street SE. in Dinkytown, two white men approached their car on foot and began to curse Muslims and Islam, then flashed a gun, trying to start a fight. When the men in the car drove off, the shooter or shooters fired into the back of the vehicle, wounding two of the men inside. At least seven shots were fired, Hussein said.

The men drove to the University of Minnesota Medical Center, where 22-year-old Metropolitan State University student Hussein Gelle and another victim whose name has not been released were treated and released. One of the men suffered a superficial leg wound and the other had a more serious leg wound. The latter underwent surgery Thursday to remove a bullet lodged in his calf.

Reached by phone Thursday night, Gelle declined to comment, other than to say he is recovering at home.

Burhan Mohumed, a youth worker in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, said at the news conference that he had discussed the shooting with one of the victims, whom he knows well.

"He made it clear that it wasn't a misunderstanding or a situation where someone felt threatened," Mohumed said. "It was an obvious attempt on their lives. … There was one person who was armed in that situation, and they chose to use lethal force."

Hassan Jama, Twin Cities imam and executive director of the Islamic Association of North America, condemned the attacks and called on fellow Minnesotans to do so as well. "Don't panic; don't be afraid," he encouraged local Muslims. "We are part of them and we are not going anywhere."

Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648