The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

CNHI News Service Originals

August 7, 2012

Officials suspect arson in fire that destroyed mosque

JOPLIN, Mo. — A mosque burned early Monday in a fire described as suspicious, just a month after an arsonist set fire to the building's roof.

Muslims left the Joplin Islamic Society after Ramadan prayers about 11:20 p.m., said Imam Lahmuddin, the society's religious leader. A passerby reported the fire four hours later.

“It was really burning when we got here,” said Bill Dunn, fire chief in Carl Junction, the city just north of Joplin where the mosque is located. “The fire got inside and broke through the roof.”

Dunn said the fire is suspicious, though investigators cannot yet prove it was arson. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms retrieved a surveillance video box, which they are sending to the FBI for analysis, he said.

The blaze happened a little more than a month after a man attempted to set fire to the building. The man has not been identified, but his image was caught on surveillance cameras on the morning of July 4. There is a $15,000 reward for information leading to arson charges.

The FBI also investigated the torching of a sign at the mosque in 2008. That arson was never solved.

“This should not stop us from serving God,” said Lahmuddin. “We still have to fulfill our obligation. We will do our prayer in other places. If we don’t find a place, we will do our prayers in our home."

The fire happened in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan, which Muslims mark with fasting. Many make more frequent visits to the mosque for daily prayers during the month.

Omar Ahmed, 15, said some local Muslims stay at the mosque overnight during Ramadan, but no one was there at the time of the fire. He arrived about 5 a.m. to the mosque surrounded in pillars of smoke.

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It’s a house of worship. It’s a place of God.”

Earlier in the weekend, on Saturday night, members of area churches and a synagogue visited the mosque for an information session about Islam and to join a traditional halal meal, which breaks each day's fast during Ramadan.

"This is a threat to a group of law abiding citizens in our midst," said Paul Teberow, of the United Hebrew Congregation, who attended Saturday's gathering and went to the mosque Monday to express his concern. "... This strikes very close to us. They're our extended family."

 

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