FBI Investigating Fire At Mosque As Arson
Witnesses say a fire at a mosque in Coachella was the result of arson and the FBI is now taking over the investigation.
The fire was first reported just before 12:10 p.m. at the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, on the 84600 block of Avenue 49. According to KMIR, the fire was contained to the lobby of the one-story building and nobody inside was hurt. The fire started just an hour before afternoon prayer services were about to begin.
Witnesses say the fire was intentionally set. "Someone threw what seems to be a Molotov cocktail-like device and it exploded inside the building around the reception area," said Islamic Society president Reymundo Nour, who was not in the building at the time of the fire, but received reports from his staff.
The FBI and the ATF are now investigating the fire at the mosque.
BREAKING: Cal Fire has contained a fire at the Islamic Society of Palm Springs. ATF enroute to partner in Coachella mosque fire.— ATF HQ (@ATFHQ) December 11, 2015
According to KESQ, a group of Muslims gathered in front of the mosque to pray after the fire was contained.
The fire comes over a week after Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 21 others in a mass shooting in San Bernardino. Federal investigators say Farook and Malik were radicalized Muslims who were inspired by the Islamic State.
"This is just another form of a terrorist attack on Muslims," Muhammad Bwaneh, who prays at the mosque regularly, told The Desert Sun. "And whoever did this is considered a terrorist for attacking a place of peace where people come to do their prayers."
"It is what it is—a sign of the times," mosque security employee Ray Brewster told The Desert Sun. "I don't believe in coincidences." He said that security will be increased for future prayer services.
He added, "Congressman [Raul] Ruiz just left here two days ago, and now our mosque—there's a mushroom plume of smoke."
Ruiz represents the Palm Desert area and last month, the Democratic congressman sided with the GOP when he voted in favor of blocking Syrian refugees from entering the United States until a tougher vetting process was created.
After receiving news of the fire, Ruiz issued the following statement:
I am deeply concerned about the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley Mosque going up in flames. I call for a thorough investigation to this arson as a possible hate crime and to bring the perpetrators to justice. I will continue to closely monitor the fire, the possible criminal investigation, and the safety of the members of the mosque. Our faith in humanity will not be intimidated and we stand together against any form violence towards the innocent.
The 17-year-old mosque was the target of a hate crime last year when it was shot at. Nobody was injured in the shooting, and no suspects were ever arrested despite the $12,000 reward.