Mosque fire started by arsonist
With the announcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also released a short video clip recorded by a surveillance camera about one hour before the fire is believed to have started, around 4 a.m. April 23.
The clip shows a person, apparently a man, walking in and out of Masjid al Emaan at 4212 N. Pershing Ave. He appears to open the door quickly and easily, without forcing it. Over his head is a plastic or very thin paper bag, obscuring his face.
The ATF is offering $10,000 to anyone who can identify the suspected arsonist.
“Somebody who knows this person should be able to recognize him,” said Special Agent Helen Dunkel of the ATF’s San Francisco office.
The fire was reported around 4:15 a.m., about one hour after the video was taken. It took nearly 40 firefighters about one hour to control the two-alarm fire.
At first, firefighters attacked the fire from inside the building but withdrew over concern the roof might collapse. In the end, the mosque was a shell, charred within.
The adjacent Reliance Real Estate was destroyed. The church with which the mosque shared a wall, Living Well Ministries and Christian Center, also was damaged.
Investigators estimated the cost to repair the damage at $400,000.
No one was injured in the fire. The mosque’s members moved elsewhere, but the new space, in the same area, was too small too accommodate them all.
Dunkel would not say whether video taken earlier or later showed anything significant. She said investigators – including the Stockton fire and police departments – were still working to solve the crime and were cautious not to release information that would threaten their work.
Deputy Fire Chief Paul Willette said there was no evidence yet that the fire was motivated by bigotry, a potential hate crime.
“There’s no one saying this person entering and leaving the building is not necessarily a member of the mosque,” he said. “Maybe they are. Maybe they’re not.”
The president of Masjid al Emaan, Fahmy Nasser, said the video was chilling and that it was difficult to explain why the door had been left unlocked.
“This is a place of worship; people come in and out,” Nasser said. “It must have been left open by the last person who left that night.”
Investigators are asking anyone with information about the arsonist to call ATF’s hot line, (888) ATF-FIRE, or (209) 244-6653. Anonymous tips leading to an arrest are eligible for the $10,000 reward.
Contact reporter Christian Burkin at (209) 546-8279 firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his blog at recordnet.com/burkinblog.
Original post: Mosque fire started by arsonist