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Islamic Center of Fort Pierce plans to move after arson

By Staff writer, For TC Palm, On 20 January 2017, Read Original
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ST. LUCIE COUNTY — The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, partially burned last year in an arson fire, is planning to move elsewhere in the community, a spokesman said.

One of three structures at the facility on West Midway Road essentially was destroyed and another damaged during the September blaze that investigators said Joseph Michael Schreiber set. Schreiber, of Port St. Lucie, was arrested days later.

“They have made a final decision not to work on the damaged property,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, mosque spokesman. “It’s not financially viable.”

Ruiz, also communications director with the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida, said the choice of new locations has been narrowed to three. Ruiz said a decision is expected in 30 to 60 days.

A court hearing for Schreiber is scheduled for Feb. 1. He told investigators he didn't mean to hurt anyone "and was embarrassed for having committed the crime," an arrest affidavit said. Schreiber also "made remarks indicative of prejudicial rhetoric associated to Islamic extremists."

The mosque's profile increased after a June 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, that left 49 dead. The gunman, Fort Pierce resident Omar Mateen, attended the mosque. He died during a confrontation with authorities in Orlando.

Mohammad Malik, who said he’s attended the Islamic Center off and on for about 10 years, stressed that many good people came to the mosque.

“It wasn’t just him (Mateen),” Malik said. “We don’t preach or teach anything of hatred at the mosque.”

The mosque has 200 to 300 members, Ruiz said.

Dr. Syed Shafeeq Rahman, the mosque’s imam, said at the time of the fire, the mosque was looking for a new insurance carrier.

Rahman said at the time of renewal, the insurance company can cancel coverage within 90 days. He said the Orlando shooting happened during that period.

“They sent us a letter that 'we feel that your place is not safe and this is your refund money' and you’re not going to have any insurance after two weeks,” Rahman said.

Rahman said they were looking for insurance when the fire happened.

To rebuild the existing mosque, they must adhere to new building rules. That, Rahman said, means installing a fire sprinkler system.

Ruiz said extending the appropriate water line to the mosque for the sprinkler system would cost about $250,000.

“Renovating the existing property is not economically viable,” Ruiz said.

Rahman and Ruiz said roughly $200,000 has been donated, including more than $60,000 through a LaunchGood campaign.

Malik said the mosque received much support after the fire.

“Not just from the Muslim community but also from the Christian, the Jewish, the Hindu community, all sorts of denominations,” Malik said. “It has really been a blessing to know that so many people really do care and that so much good as far as a showing of love has come from an act of hate.”

After the fire, services at the mosque shifted to a smaller building on the north side of the property, but there are no restrooms.

Malik said mosque attendees weren’t discouraged about the mosque’s future after the fire.

“We always knew we were going to come back,” Malik said. “We’ve always felt that way.”

St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office crime scene investigator

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