Investigators now say an arsonist set fire to Texas mosque, but they stop short of labeling the fire a hate crime.
A fire that destroyed a mosque in a small Texas community in late January was deliberately set, investigators say.
The Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas, 125 miles southwest of Houston, was burned in the early morning hours of Jan. 28. When fire crews arrived, they found “the mosque completely consumed in flames,” Battalion Chief Jeff Cowan told the Victoria Advocate.
After watching firefighters battle the blaze, some of the 140 members of the mosque prayed on a sidewalk across the street. Shahid Hashmi, president of the center, said the mosque had hosted dinner only hours before.
After the fire, local churches and the town's only synagogue offered to share their space for members of the mosque to worship. Community members raised more than $1 million in four hours to fund a rebuilding effort, posting signs that said, “We Love Our Muslim Neighbors” and “Love is Greater Than Hate.”
A $30,000 reward has been offered and investigators are not yet calling the incident a hate crime. The Victoria newspaper reported that in July 2013 a man admitted spray painting “H8” on the outside of the mosque,
Fred Milanowski, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent in charge, told the Houston Chronicle that “houses of worship are a sacred place in this country,” and that the ATF was devoting serious resources to the case.
Hashmi said his congregation already has forgiven the arsonist, but “there is no way we will be able to ever forget.”
“The law will take care of the punishment,” Hashmi said. “We have nothing to do with that.”