Justice

A Christmas Day Mosque Fire May Have Been Intentional, Officials Say

CREDIT: LM Otero, AP

As police stand guard, armed anti-Muslim protestors, who did not want to give their names, stand across the street from a mosque during a demonstration in Richardson, Texas, on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. ]

Officials are investigating whether a fire at a Houston mosque that began on Christmas Day may have been arson, since the blaze had various points of origin, according to CBS affiliate KHOU.

In an interview with the Houston Chronicle, Dramane Diallo, who opens the mosque for prayer every day, said he thought it was unlikely that it was an electrical fire: “It’s very hard to believe it was an accident.”

The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a law enforcement agency in the U.S. Department of Justice, are investigating the cause of the fire, which happened only an hour after hundreds of people were inside the building for Friday prayer.

This fire could be yet another anti-Muslim attack in a slew of crimes committed against Muslims and mosques following the terrorist attacks in Paris. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a statement calling for local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate the scene for a possible bias motive.

CAIR released a report on more than 70 incidents targeting mosques that shows the frequency of damage, vandalism, and intimidation has been more frequent than any other year since the organization began tracking these incidents in 2009. ThinkProgress compiled its own list of anti-Muslim incidents happening across the country since the Paris attacks, which included attacks, protests, and threats leveled against houses of worship, including a severed pig’s head thrown at the door of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society, harassment and assault against individual Muslims and their families, and profiling at airports.

Since ThinkProgress reviewed anti-Muslim attacks and threats, there have been more incidents of mosques being attacked and individuals being investigated for threats against Muslims.

On December 10, CAIR’s offices in Washington, D.C. received a powdery substance and a hate message. Although the CAIR office said it is accustomed to receiving hateful messages, the powder substance was new and people had to be evacuated from the building, with the exception of a few semi-quarantined staff members.

On December 11, a fire at a Southern California mosque, the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley in Coachella, was determined to be a hate crime by the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Coachella Police Department.

And on Christmas Eve, a Richmond, California man, William Celli, who was charged with making threats against Muslims and who expressed anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media, was released from police custody. Police searched his home after they received a tip that he may have had an explosive device. Richmond Mayor Tom Butt later released a statement, which commended the police department “for their work in stopping what could have been a tragic attack in our community.”