An Islamic center in Missouri burned to the ground Monday, just over a month after an unidentified man attempted to set fire to the building.
"We are currently in the preliminary stages of this investigation and are awaiting a determination as to the cause of this fire," FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael Kaste said in a press release Monday.
"If this fire is determined to be deliberate in nature, it will be investigated to the fullest extent possible. Any act of violence to a house of worship is taken very seriously by law enforcement."
The destruction of the Islamic Center of Joplin, in Jasper County Missouri, comes just a month after security cameras caught video of a man deliberately setting fire to the building.
The suspect, a stocky white male with short, dark hair, has not yet been apprehended. The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) are offering a $15,000 reward to anyone with information to the perpetrator.
The FBI is again coordinating with the ATF on the investigation into the fire on Monday. Authorities confirmed the center "sustained a total loss" but that the premises were empty and therefore no one was injured.
However, worshipers had only left the building around midnight and were planning to return at 5:00 a.m. for morning prayers. Firefighters arrived on the scene of the fire at around 3:40 a.m.
"We just take this as a test from God. God is testing us. This is the month of Ramadan," the center's religious leader, Imam Lahmuddin, told the Joplin Globe.
"We are fasting. We are not supposed to get angry, we are not supposed to say anything bad," he added, stressing during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims focus on forgiveness and prayer.
Members of the Christian and Jewish faiths in the area, who on Saturday took part in a meal at the Islamic center to promote inter-faith dialogue and education, were saddened by the incident.
"This is a threat to a group of law-abiding citizens in our midst," United Hebrew Congregation member Paul Teverow told the Globe. "The people of Joplin should share the same sense of outrage."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has offered a $10,000 reward for information on the fire leading to an arrest. After the deadly shooting Sunday at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, the council has also asked for increased security at all houses of worship.
Sikhs, often mistaken for Arabs or Muslims because of the turbans they wear, as well as members of the Muslim faith, have been a drastic uptick in attacks against their communities since 9/11.
"Law enforcement is requesting the assistance of the public in this matter," the Monday FBI statement added. "Anyone with information regarding this fire is requested to contact any of the investigating agencies."
by RTT Staff Writer
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