A mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground early on Monday in the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month, and investigators spent the day combing through the wreckage searching for evidence of arson.
No injuries were reported, but the Islamic Society of Joplin’s building was a total loss after the blaze, first reported at about 3:30am, the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office said. As of late on Monday, nobody had been arrested in connection with the fire.
Investigators from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Jasper County Sheriff’s department were at the scene all day on Monday, moving the rubble with a bulldozer and other equipment.
While investigators did their work, a small group of Muslims gathered for an evening prayer on the lawn of the destroyed building.
“This is what we stand for,” said Ahmed Asadullah, a member of the Islamic Society of Joplin. “Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech.”
It was the second time this summer investigators had been called to the Islamic center, located in a former church on the outskirts of Joplin. A fire reported around the same time on July 4 has been determined to be arson, but no charges have been filed. The FBI has released a video of a suspect caught on surveillance video and offered a US$15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in that fire.
Michael Kaste, special agent in charge of the Kansas City office of the FBI, said the investigation into Monday’s fire was in the preliminary stages, and that about 30 people had been assigned to the investigation.
Kaste said it was too early to say if there was surveillance video available from the Monday fire. The Jasper County Sheriff’s office said earlier on Monday the video equipment had been destroyed.
“We just want to get the word out there to generate people to really come forward,” he said.
Imam Lahmuddin, who leads the mosque and was in the building until late on Sunday, said he was “sad and shocked” about the fire. He had been at the mosque since before dawn on Monday, and remained there late in the evening.
“Maybe there is something we are supposed to learn from this,” he said.
A Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization meanwhile called for more police protection at mosques and other houses of worship following the Joplin fire and a deadly attack at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. The Council on American-Islamic Relations also offered a US$10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever started the mosque fire.
About 50 families belong to the Islamic Society of Joplin, which opened in 2007 as a mosque and community center. The FBI led an investigation in 2008 when the mosque’s sign was torched. That crime also remained unsolved.