A mosque in the US state of Texas has been set on fire and destroyed after being burglarized a week earlier, becoming the second mosque to burn down in the southern state so far this month.
The Islamic Center of Victoria, which was also targeted with hate crime years ago, collapsed in an early Saturday morning blaze that has been described as a suspected arson in the local press.
On January 7, a mosque under construction near Lake Travis in the city of Austin was burned to the ground, prompting the Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) to issue a statement, saying that it would monitor the investigation into the Victoria blaze as has done so with the Austin fire.
“Because of growing anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation, and because of the recent spike in hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions and individuals, we urge investigators to keep the possibility of a bias motive for this fire in mind,” CAIR Houston Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll said.
The Victoria mosque fire was first spotted by a convenience store clerk who saw smoke and flames billowing from the Islamic Center at around 2 am and contacted the local fire department.
“It’s sad to stand there and watch it collapse down, and the fire was so huge,” said the center’s president, Shahid Hashmi. “It looks completely destroyed.”
While Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler has asked for help from the Texas Fire Marshal’s Office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in discovering the cause of the fire, Hashmi said authorities have told him it was too early to speculate.
“We don’t have any lead or information as to what started the fire and what happened. So I’m sure it’s going to be a few days, they told us, before they can come up with any answers for us.”
According to Hashmi, someone had broken into the center on January 21 and stole some electronic stuff, including laptops.
No injuries were reported as the result of the fire at the mosque, which was built in 2000. It took firefighters nearly four hours to extinguish the blaze.
Meanwhile, local Victoria Advocate newspaper reported that in July 2013, a man admitted to painting “H8,” a computer shorthand for “hate,” on the walls of the mosque.