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US mosque burns to ground in suspected arson attack

“We hope these are isolated events, but suddenly they have become more regular and bolder.”

Imam Lahmuddin holds his hands over his face after a fire destroyed the Islamic Society of Joplin.
Imam Lahmuddin holds his hands over his face after a fire destroyed the Islamic Society of Joplin.
Image: AP Photo/The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown

A MOSQUE BURNED to the ground in the midwestern United States today, in what worshippers suspect was a hate attack, less than a day after a deadly shooting at a Sikh temple.

Firefighters and police were called to a blaze at the Islamic Center in Joplin, Missouri – where around 125 members of the local Muslim community pray – at around 3.40am, according to the FBI’s Kansas City office.

“The building was completely destroyed,” said Sharon Rhine, a spokeswoman for the local Jasper County Sheriff’s office. No one was wounded in the incident.

“No-one was apprehended. They don’t want to call it a hate crime without information or knowledge of having someone to charge,” Rhine said.

Monday’s blaze followed an attack on 4 July, when an unidentified suspect threw a petrol bomb onto the roof of the same mosque, causing minor damage.

The mosque’s surveillance cameras captured an image of the assailant’s face, and the FBI offered a $15,000 reward for information related to the July incident, but no one has been apprehended.

“It does seem coincidental that there was a fire a month ago and there was another one this month,” Rhine said.

FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton said both incidents occurred in the middle of the night, but said the FBI would “wait to determine the cause of the fire.”

“If it is determined that the attack was intentional, we will conduct and investigation to see if there is any correlation between this fire and that of July 4,” Patton added.

Local community members say this is one of a series of attacks on their mosque since it was founded in 2007.

“Since the establishment of the mosque, we’ve been constantly under attack,” said former mosque board member Navid Zaidi, 47. “Our sign has been burnt … Our mailbox was smashed multiple times. We had bullets shot at our sign.”

Zaidi says the local community is lucky the attack occurred in the early morning, when no one was there.

“During Ramadan is a time when more people attend the services. We are fortunate that no one was hurt today,” he said, referring to the ongoing Muslim holy month of fasting and prayer.

Zaidi complained that no suspects have been apprehended in the month since the 4 July attack. “I don’t recall in my 27 years in the US, ever seeing perpetrators apprehended,” he said.

At an attack at a Sikh Temple on Sunday, a gunman shot and killed six people before he was shot by a police officer.

“We hope these are isolated events, but suddenly they have become more regular and bolder,” Zaidi said.

- © AFP, 2012

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