$1,000 reward offered for info on swastika sprayed on Islamic Center
The symbol was sprayed on a glass door outside the building sometime between June 21 and 23, said Dr. Aref Assef, one of the center’s directors.
The reward was announced at a press conference involving police and local religious leaders at the center Tuesday morning.
Khurrum Ali, civil rights director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the center’s leaders wanted to call extra attention to the vandalism to head off possible future incidents.
“We do not want escalation,” he said. “Right now it was just spray paint. Tomorrow it could be something worse.”
Assef said that while he wanted police to find the culprit, he didn’t hold a grudge against whoever did it and, in fact, wanted to speak with that person.
“We are extending a hand of peace to them,” he said. “We’re not angry at them. We’re not upset with them. We hope that they recognize the error of their ways. If there’s an issue they may have with our center or our faith, our doors are wide open. But we still want them to be found and to determine the cause and the reason.”
Police Chief Douglas Scheer said detectives hope to get more or better footage from cameras at the 1 Mannino Drive building by speaking with the company that installed them.
Last Friday, police said they eliminated a “person of interest” as a suspect in the act. A woman was seen on camera at the building, but after authorities reviewed the footage and interviewed her, it was determined she was a member of the center who was reading a job advertisement on a board outside, officials have said.
Police had posted images of her on their Facebook page Thursday.
Scheer said she was the only person shown on footage the center provided police during the time frame of the vandalism. He said security video from other area businesses had also been reviewed, though he declined to say whether detectives were looking into any other persons of interest.
“This is an incident that has never occurred in our community and we want to make sure that it never happens again,” Scheer said.
Islamic center leaders are exploring improving the building’s security, Assaf said. The center doesn’t plan on changing its open-door policy — it’s never locked — anytime soon, he said. Nothing inside the building, which opened in 2010 appeared to have been vandalized, Assaf said.
“Attacks on places of worship are an affront not only to the congregation of the affected place,” he said, “but they send a far-reaching message to that entire community.”
A handful of local religious and interfaith leaders from the area gave their support to the Islamic center at the press conference. State Sen. Anthony Bucco said in a statement, read by Ali at the lectern, that “the bottom line is no one in any town should have to tolerate such divisive actions.”
Some members of the Islamic center’s congregation suggested that the symbol might have actually an been Indian or Hindu peace symbol, Assef said. But he said he didn’t see how that could be possible.
“That is not the way to convey a message of peace,” Assef said, “by vandalizing someone else’s property.”