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I Islamophobia

Arson investigation at Islamic Center of Fort Pierce continues

By Will Greenlee,, For TC Palm, On 22 September 2016, Read Original
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FORT PIERCE — Just eight phone calls with tips have come in regarding what sheriff’s officials say is an arson fire Monday at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce as local and federal officials wind down their presence at the facility on West Midway Road.

“That is very disheartening because regardless of individuals’ belief, this is a place of worship and a tragic situation,” sheriff’s Maj. David Thompson said Tuesday afternoon. “The individuals responsible for this need to be brought to justice.”

Authorities worked behind yellow crime scene tape Monday and Tuesday at the Islamic center, which sustained substantial damage after the fire reported about 12:40 a.m. Monday.

Omar Mateen, who went on a shooting spree June 12 at an Orlando gay nightclub that left 49 dead, had worshiped at the center west of U.S. 1. The fire was reported just after the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Thompson said samples collected are being analyzed at a crime laboratory in Tallahassee, and that investigators hope to determine the accelerant used in the blaze, which could yield additional avenues to investigate.


He said a $5,000 reward is being offered by the Florida Advisory Committee on Arson Prevention for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible. Officials with the Council on American-Islamic Relations also announced a reward totaling $5,000.

Video footage from the mosque shows a single person on a motorcycle, possibly a Harley-Davidson style motorcycle, approach the mosque, Thompson has said. Shortly after the motorcyclist walked up to the mosque, a bright flash was seen, "indicating that a fire did occur." Sheriff’s officials say they believe the person to be a man. He was carrying a bottle of some sort of liquid and also some sort of paper.

“When we identify this individual and place him in custody, then there may be additional charges filed at the federal level,” he said.

Thompson said investigators believe the fire was started on the steps leading to the east door and the door itself.

Wilfredo Ruiz, Islamic center spokesman and communications director for CAIR in Florida, said the Islamic center, which he said has fewer than 150 members, will continue there or at another location.


He said worshipers are feeling sadness and fear.

“The guy is at large, what can the guy do again?” he said. “Is he a person who did this once or somebody capable of doing more hate crimes?”

Ruiz, who said he’s been with CAIR for about six years, said this is the largest amount of damage caused to any mosque in Florida that he’s aware of.

The portion of the facility directly visible from Midway Road appears undamaged, but sheriff’s officials said the fire started toward the center of the facility. Ruiz said there might be damage to the attic of the main prayer hall area.

“This building will be rendered unusable probably,” he said. “It is a real possibility.”

Meanwhile, at the nearby Muslim Friends of Florida mosque on South U.S. 1, the imam, Dr. Abdul Shadani, an interventional cardiologist, said worshipers from the Islamic center are welcome there.

“They can come anytime and worship because this is a house of God,” he said. “This is for everybody.”

He said since the Orlando mass shooting, Fort Pierce police have been a common presence at the facility.

He said on Monday, police conducted a roll call in the parking lot, and an officer was there after evening prayers, which he said made people feel better.

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