In a possible case of hate crime, authorities are investigating an arson attack after someone tried to burn down a mosque in Houston, Texas, just an hour before morning prayers were scheduled to begin.
According to the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office, an unknown attacker set fire to the front section of the Northshore Islamic Center at about 4:30 a.m. fortunately, the fire alarm went off, alerting the groundskeeper who was able to extinguish the flames before they could cause much harm.
"Nobody has said anything about any enemies, but we can tell from the pattern on the door and just the fact that there was no electricity or anything else in the area that it was intentionally started," said Rachel Moreno, a spokeswoman for the office.
The tires of a car that belonged to the imam, the leader of the mosque, were also slashed, according to police.
"Fortunately, nobody got hurt today, but God forbid — within an hour, there were people coming for their morning prayers," M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society, told NBC affiliate KPRC.
While what happened was concerning, Khan said except for necessary precautions they didn’t want to take measures that might make the mosque unwelcoming for those coming to pray.
“These are places of worship, we want people to come and find peace and tranquility and we don’t want the mosques to be fortresses,” he added.
He was also hoping the attack was only a “prank” and "not a hate crime," but at the same time, asked the members of the Islamic society to "remain vigilant about their surroundings."
The latest arson’s incident came days after a federal jury found 26-year-old Marq Vincent Perez guilty of hate crime after he reportedly set a fire that gutted the Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, about 150 miles southwest of Houston, in January 2017.
“In light of the fact we just had a conviction in Victoria of a mosque being burned down to the ground, it does raise our eyebrows and our suspicions,” said Mustaffa Carroll, executive director of Council on Islamic-American Relations Houston. “We’ve seen a ramp up in hate crimes and hate incidents and these types of things definitely make us suspicious.”
However, the authorities didn’t want to jump to any conclusions and in order to get to the root of the matter, have offered a $5,000 reward for tips that might lead to an arrest.
"I couldn't believe it," Houston resident Osama Helmy, who prays at the mosque, told KPRC. "This is a beautiful community. It's something that shouldn't happen," Helmy said. "It's a place where people are worshiping."
Banner Image Credits: Pexels