Authorities in Southern California are investigating a recent fire at a mosque as a possible hate crime just over a week after terrorist attacks in New Zealand.
Early Sunday morning, a group of seven congregants at the Islamic Center of Escondido called the police after spotting a fire and used an extinguisher to put it out. They had been performing itikaf, the Islamic practice of secluding oneself in the mosque to pray.
While the fire left minor damage to the building’s outer wall, police discovered graffiti on the center’s driveway that referenced the March 15 terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white nationalist opened fire on Muslim worshippers attending Friday prayer services, killing 50 and injuring 50 others.
There are currently no suspects, the Escondido Police Department said Tuesday.
"Currently, we are not giving out any of the specifics on the New Zealand reference," Lt. Christopher Lick told Anadolu Agency in an email.
Lick said an accelerant was used to set the fire.
Local police announced Sunday that the attack was being investigated as arson and a hate crime and that the FBI, the San Diego Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will be assisting.
"It is disturbing enough that some sick individual would attempt to burn a house of worship to the ground, but referencing the slayings in New Zealand is beyond the pale," Dustin Craun, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in San Diego, said in a statement.
"While the majority of humanity has responded to the tragedy to draw closer to one another and refute hatred, a violent and hate-filled minority seeks further divisions."
The vandalism and arson is the latest in a series of attacks that have been reported in the U.S. since the attacks on the two mosques in New Zealand.
A man in Phoenix, Arizona was arrested and charged with threatening members of a mosque a day after the Christchurch attacks.
A mosque in Maryland received a threatening message last Thursday saying "maybe you'll be next" in the run-up to a fundraising event.
CAIR has called for mosques around the country to get the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate their preparedness against such attacks and have held workshops and webinars to help educate the Muslim community about safety measures.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.