Mosque Arson Investigated - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

08/25/03

Mosque Arson Investigated

An mosque burned to the ground Sunday morning, and police are calling it a case of arson. Around 3am SSunday - someone set fire to the Islamic Center of Savannah on Dutchtown Road. During the investigation, the arson dogs smelled something suspicious at the scene and alerted their handlers. They've since asked the FBI and ATF for help in solving this crime.

"The fact that there is good possibility accelerants were used in the fire and many other parts in the case we can't release right now do lead us to believe that it was intentional and we're calling it an arson," said Asst. Chief Steve Miller.

The Savannah Fire Department says there are several reasons why they believe this was arson, and one of those reasons could be hate. The fire completely destroyed the building but it wasn't the only thing targeting this mosque. Just a few weeks ago, bullets slammed into the garage door and one of its members received hate mail. With all these factors, the Savannah Fire Department's investigators have good reason to believe this fire was intentional.

"Because of the fact it is an Islamic religious center, that's one of the possible motives that could be involved in it," said Miller. "Because of that we have notified the local FBI office."

Now religious leaders are worried that they will continue to be targeted. "I'm also afraid of the younger youth, Muslim children, families and females," said Dr. Masood Ahmed, the center's vice chairman. "It's going to be very scary for all of them."

Even though this fire might appear devastating to the Muslim community, you'd be surprised at how they're looking at this situation. Prayer is still being held in a tent at the scene, and the Islamic faith is still being practiced. With this possibly being a hate crime, the Muslim community has good reason to live in fear, but they refuse to live that way.

"There's a lot of unrest in the community since these things happened, a threatening letter," said Dr. Ahmed. "But also believe on the other hand, the law enforcement, we trust them that they're going to go after those people behind this and action will be taken against them."

While many items may be irreplaceable and lost to this fire, one thing many members say that is not lost is their commitment to their faith and their community. "If you think we're going to stop doing what we're doing...absolutely not," said Dr. Ahmed. "We'll continue to follow our faith, it's our legal right."

Reported by: Nicole Teigen, nteigen@wtoc.com

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