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Ontario hall at Queen's University in Kingston, on Sept., 6, 2013

Police have arrested three men and are searching for a fourth after several Muslim students in Kingston, Ont., were attacked in what investigators are calling a hate crime.

A group of six Queen's University students was targeted by four young men on bicycles who yelled "racial slurs and hate-based profanities," police said. The male students were attacked as they walked back from seeing Gravity at a north-end movie theatre early Sunday morning.

"It's a crime that dictates a swift response from the police," said Detective Constable Jay Finn of Kingston Police. "This type of behaviour won't be tolerated in our community."

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In an interview, one of the victims said the suspects approached them to ask whether they wanted to buy drugs. When they declined and started walking away, the four men began shouting racial slurs and chasing them.

"They were saying, 'We have a machete,' 'Let's slit their throats' and 'White power,' " said the victim, an engineering student who asked that his name not be used. "They were saying, 'Asians, Muslims, go back to your country.'"

The victim said he and his friends feared for their lives and believed that a long object with a curved end that one suspect swung at them was a machete. He now thinks it was actually a hockey stick.

"We all thought that they're going to slice us open, like in terms of we'll die at that spot, just because of the weapon. Because every individual thought that it's really a sword or something," he said.

While most of the friends ran for their lives, the suspects caught up with one and hit him on the bicep and thigh with a baseball bat, causing bruising. The assault ended when the suspects heard police sirens and ran off, the victim said.

The engineering student said he and his friends have recovered after receiving strong support from the community.

"It was an unfortunate incident and obviously there are a lot of stereotypes and there's a lot to learn and move on. And it just shows that we have to work collectively together," he said.

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Queen's principal Daniel Woolf denounced the attack, saying the university was committed to protecting its students and staff from hate and discrimination.

"I am shocked and dismayed to learn that anyone in this community would be the victim of an unprovoked attack of this kind, let alone six of our students," Mr. Woolf said in a statement. "I can only imagine how shaken they must be feeling after this incident, and my thoughts are with them."

Police released a grainy photo one of the victims took on his cellphone that happened to capture one of the alleged attackers just before the attack, which happened on Fraser Street near Patrick Street. Det. Constable Finn said the photo helped lead to the arrests of three men who live in a nearby housing complex.

Three men, who are 18, 19 and 20 years old, face charges of assault with a weapon and uttering threats. Two also face charges of breach of probation.

Police are still looking for a fourth suspect.

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