Fire at New Haven Mosque Was Intentionally Set, Fire Chief Says – The New York Times

Fire at New Haven Mosque Was Intentionally Set, Fire Chief Says - The New York Times

Fire Chief Suspects Arson Caused Connecticut Mosque Fire

With Ramadan underway, the Diyanet Mosque of New Haven was a daily gathering place for Muslims to be among friends and family as they broke their fast.

But on Sunday, worshipers received devastating news: A fire had broken out just before 4 p.m., rendering the mosque uninhabitable.

Officials say fire at New Haven mosque was intentionally set

And on Monday, New Haven officials delivered another blow: They announced that they believed that the fire had been set intentionally.

Were just kind of shocked, said Haydar Elevli, the president of the Connecticut branch of the Turkish-American Religious Foundation, which owns the mosque. Everybodys sad right now.

The fire occurred during the holy month of Ramadan. The front of the mosque was under construction, but some areas were still being used for worship.

The specific motive for the arson was unclear. There have been no arrests and the investigation is continuing, the authorities said.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont visited the mosque and said he finds "an attack like this especially hurtful and hateful."

Nobody was hurt in the blaze, and Mr. Elevli said in an interview on Monday night that the damage was not too bad. The New Haven Fire Department did not respond to further requests for comment.

Fire chief: Connecticut mosque fire appears to be arson

At a news conference earlier Monday, while standing in front of the charred three-story building, Chief John Alston of the Fire Department said federal law enforcement officials were helping with the investigation into the arson.

Some evidence has already been recovered indicating that the Diyanet Mosque in New Haven was a deliberate act, New Haven Fire Chief John Alston Jr. said on Monday. State and federal authorities have launched a criminal investigation, he said.

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I found an attack like this is especially hurtful and hateful when you attack an institution for what people believe, Gov. Ned Lamont said at the news conference.

The fire broke out Sunday afternoon, starting on the first floor and spreading to the second, leaving the building unusable. Although the front of the mosque was under construction at the time, certain areas were accessible to worshippers.

Crews respond to mosque fire in New Haven

In March, 51 people were killed in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, after the suspect published a hate-filled manifesto, the authorities said. A week later, someone set a fire outside an Islamic Center mosque in Escondido, Calif., and anti-Muslim graffiti referring to the New Zealand attacks was found, officials said.

"We are taking this very serious," said New Haven interim Police Chief Otoniel Reyes. "We are working with our federal and state partners to make sure that there is no underlying issue to the greater community and to the greater religious community."

Also that month, the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford received a phone call from someone who threatened to burn it down, the authorities said. The person used racial slurs in the call, according to an imam at the center.

In April, three predominantly black churches were set on fire in Louisiana, and a gunman opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., during a service on the last day of Passover. The authorities were investigating whether the suspect in the shooting was the author of an anti-Semitic manifesto, in which the writer also claimed responsibility for the mosque fire in Escondido.

Given recent attacks on houses of worship in this country and around the world, it is incumbent on law enforcement authorities to investigate the possibility of a bias motive for this arson, Tark Aouadi, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Connecticut said in a statement about the New Haven fire.

A criminal investigation is undwerway, and officials believe the fire was intentionally set. Besides local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are also involved.

Mr. Elevli said he had not heard of any threats targeting the mosque or its members before the fire. He said it had not crossed his mind that the mosque could have been targeted.

The mosque, at 531 Middletown Ave., near Foxon Boulevard, has classrooms and apartments and opened in 2010, Mr. Elevli said. The mosque was under construction, and the building was largely empty when the fire occurred.

A fire broke out on the first floor of the mosque on Sunday afternoon and spread to the second level. A worshipper who was in the building called firefighters and was able to safely evacuate.

The mosques parent organization, the Diyanet Center of America, is a Maryland-based nonprofit that provides religious, social and educational services to Turkish immigrants and Muslims, according to the organizations website.

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Over the years, the New Haven mosque had become a go-to place for families to gather, with educational programs for children on the weekends.

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Mr. Elevli said he got a call Sunday afternoon from an imam saying that the mosque was on fire. He said a visiting imam from Turkey was inside reading a book when he walked outside and noticed the building was on fire.

Fire officials told WTNH-TV that one person was inside the Diyanet Mosque when flames erupted near the entrance. It wasnt immediately clear if there were injuries.

Crews respond to New Haven mosque fire

The roads close to the building were blocked, but he parked his car and walked closer to the building in heavy rain. He said many bystanders were crying.

Mr. Elevli said he was not sure when people will be able to re-enter the building. It will depend in part on the criminal investigation and a review of the damage for insurance purposes, he said. He is considering whether to erect a tent for people to gather under during Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim calendar.

Thank God all the churches and synagogues are calling us, willing to help, willing to share their space, he said.

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Posted in New Haven