Source: Associated Press
FORT PIERCE, Fla. (AP) — The Islamic community says it will repair and reopen the arson-damaged Florida mosque that was occasionally attended by Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen.
Hamaad Rahman, assistant imam of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, said the mosque’s approximately 100 members are “saddened and scared” by the fire, which was started late Sunday and burned for more than five hours before it was extinguished early Monday. The fire was started on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
“Our community is bigger than a building. We are stronger than that,” Rahman said Monday. “I feel we will be able to pull together from this, and as time goes by we will be able to rebuild.”
The mosque has been subjected to more threats since June’s nightclub shooting than it did in its previous 20 years of existence, Rahman said.
Given the timing of the blaze, investigators believe it may have been a hate crime, St. Lucie County sheriff’s spokesman Maj. David Thompson said.
No one was injured. The fire burned a 10-by-10-foot hole in the roof at the back of the mosque’s main building and blackened its eaves with soot.
A surveillance video from the mosque showed a man on a Harley-Davidson type motorcycle approaching the building with a bottle of liquid and some papers, then leaving when there was a flash and shaking his hand as though he may have burned it, Thompson said. The first 911 calls were made about 45 minutes later after the fire had spread to the attic. It took about 4 1/2 hours for firefighters to extinguish the blaze. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, he said.
The arsonist “is terrorizing our community because we don’t know where he is at and we don’t know what he is capable of doing,” said Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, Florida spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations who was representing the mosque’s leadership.
Mateen opened fire at the Pulse nightclub June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and 53 wounded before the gunman was killed by police. He professed allegiance to the Islamic State group. His father is among roughly 100 people who attend the mosque.