California police open hate crime investigation after Sikh temple is vandalized with Islamophobic graffiti
Police patrol the scene of a mass shooting on December 2, 2015 in San Bernardino, California, where one or more gunmen opened fire inside a building, leaving at least 14 dead (AFP Photo/Frederic J. Brown)

Police in Southern California have opened a hate crime investigation into the vandalization of a Sikh house of worship in Orange County that was defaced with Islamaphobic and gang graffiti, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The graffiti was discovered on the exterior of the Gurdwara Singh Sabha in Buena Park and included the word Islam - spelled "Islahm" - and a reference to Islamic State militants, said the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group for the Sikh community.

The defacement, discovered on Sunday, came days after a Muslim couple massacred 14 people at a holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

The graffiti, much of it illegible, also included some gang references, the Sikh Coalition said in a statement.

The group said the gurdwara - a place of worship for Sikhs - had reported the incident to the Buena Park police and had asked local and federal authorities to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

A spokesman for the Buena Park police told the New York Times that officers were increasing patrols around the building and had opened a hate crime probe.

"The writing, because of what it is and because of the history of Sikhs being targeted in the past for retaliation after terrorist attacks, we are investigating it," Corporal Bret Carter told the paper.

Sikhs say they have been singled out increasingly for harassment since the Sept. 11 attacks, with perpetrators believing incorrectly that they are Muslim extremists because of their turbans and beards.

In September, a Sikh man was attacked and badly beaten in Chicago by a suspect who pulled up to his car yelling racial slurs, including, "Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden," the coalition said.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Gareth Jones)