Hamilton police’s hate crime unit is investigating after two McMaster University students from Egypt were attacked early Thursday on the way back from evening prayers at the Downtown Mosque.

It happened just after midnight, when twin brothers Moustafa Algamal and Mahmoud Elgamal were riding their bikes on Bay Street North near Cannon Street.

A group of about ten people who the brothers say seemed to be in their late teens yelled out at them, but they thought nothing of it. But then three males from the group ran towards them and jumped them from behind.

'What if he used the knife or what if this car didn’t pass by? It’s a bit scary. I don’t feel safe.' - Mahmoud Elgamal

“They started physically assaulting us – punches to the face and pushing us off our bikes,” Elgamal told CBC Hamilton Thursday. “Then all of a sudden I looked next to me and my brother was unconscious. His head was on the sidewalk and he was leaning backwards.”

The fight became a three on one situation – but as both he and his brother are second-degree black belts in Karate, Elgamal was able to hold his own, he says.

“That’s when one of them pulled out a knife and started saying some racial slurs like ‘go back to India’ – I’m Egyptian, by the way,” he said. “He started threatening me with a knife, saying ‘I will cut you up. He also said he had a gun, but I don’t think he actually had one.”

Luckily, Elgamal was able to yell out the driver of a passing car, and the driver called the police. Officers arrived and broke up the fight – but it isn’t clear if anyone has actually been arrested in relation to the incident.

Mahmoud Elgamal

Mahmoud Elgamal's lip was badly swollen Thursday afternoon after a brawl broke out not long after midnight on the way back from Ramadan prayers. (Adam Carter/CBC)

“Parties at the scene were investigated,” said police spokesperson Catherine Martin. “Two suspects have been identified. Investigation is ongoing with the Hamilton Police Hate Crime investigator.” Martin would not specify if anyone had actually been arrested. “That’s all the information I have,” she said.

Both of the brothers were taken to hospital and treated for their injuries. Algamal suffered a concussion, while Elgamal suffered mostly superficial wounds like scrapes and a sore back. Nothing was stolen from either of them.

“To me, it’s not a racist thing or a religious thing,” Algamal said. “They weren’t targeting us because we are Muslims.

“They were just showing off.”

But racist or not – the brothers still want police to ensure that the people that did this face charges for what they’ve done.

“Luckily I’m a strong young man, so I was able to protect myself and hold myself until the police came, but what if it was a younger high school kid who couldn’t defend himself, or it was a woman, or it was an older guy?” Elgamal said. “They would have been stabbed at least. It’s so frustrating. Why? Why would you start attacking two strangers for no reason?”

“What if he used the knife or what if this car didn’t pass by? It’s a bit scary. I don’t feel safe.”

Police are asking anyone with information to contact the hate crime investigator at 905-546-5678 or Crime Stoppers at 905-522-8477.