The attack came as some religious rights groups warn of a rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment in the United States, blaming President Donald Trump for divisive anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Trump condemned the fatal stabbings on Monday, calling them “unacceptable.”
The suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, a 35-year-old convicted felon, faces charges including aggravated murder, attempted murder, intimidation and being a felon in possession of a restricted weapon.
A third man who came to the aid of the women suffered serious wounds in the attack that occurred on Friday hours before the start of Ramadan, Islam’s holy month.
Destinee Mangum, who was on the train with a friend wearing a Muslim head scarf, said in a video posted on CNN’s website on Monday that she did not know the men and thanked them for putting their lives on the line.
In his Twitter message, Trump said, “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”
Trump’s remarks came after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on the president to condemn the rampage and speak out against what the advocacy group sees as an increase in anti-Islamic sentiment. Anti-Muslim incidents increased more than 50 percent in the United States last year, it said.
In an open letter to Trump that was posted on social media on Tuesday, Asha Deliverance, mother of stabbing victim Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, urged the president to condemn “acts of violence, which result directly from hate speech and hate groups.”
On Monday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler called on federal authorities to rescind a permit for a June 4 “Trump Free Speech Rally” and not to issue a permit for a June 10 “March Against Sharia,” writing in a Facebook post that “our community’s anger is real, and the timing and subject of these events can only exacerbate an already difficult situation.”
The Oregon chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union replied with a statement on Twitter the same day warning against censoring “unpopular speech.”
The FBI is investigating the attack to determine whether to charge Christian with terrorism or a federal hate crime, said Portland FBI spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien; Additional reporting by Tom James; Editing by Richard Lough and Frances Kerry)