Spate of mosque fires stretches across the country


The congregation of the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas was destroyed in a fire. Then an act of kindness revived their spirits — the leaders of the local Jewish congregation gave them the keys to their synagogue so they could continue to worship. The mosque has also raised over $1 million in donations from around the globe.

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(CNN) — In just the first two months of the year, at least four mosques have gone up in flames as attacks against religious minorities have surged.

The Council of American-Islamic Relations, known as CAIR, said this year’s mosque fires follow “the worst year on record for incidents in which mosques were targets of bias.”

President Donald Trump during last year’s campaign called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States. After his inauguration last month, Trump enacted a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, though it was swiftly halted by the courts. He is said to be drafting a new version.

CAIR is due to publish a report soon Islamophobia in America, said Thania Diaz Clevenger, civil rights director for the organization’s Florida branch.

“Why would you cause such fear, and why would you cause such disruption to the lives of so many people?” she asked.

The last reported mosque fire happened in her state. Here’s a look at the mosque fires so far this year:

January 7: Austin, Texas

The Islamic Center of Lake Travis hadn’t even been completed yet when it mysteriously caught fire.

The blaze, which caused $370,000 in damage, destroyed the building, the Travis County Fire Marshal’s Office said.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation.

January 14: Bellevue, Washington

A fire that torched the Islamic Center of Eastside near Seattle was an act of arson, Bellevue Police Chief Steve Mylett said.

No one was inside the mosque at the time of the blaze, which firefighters said shot 40-foot flames into the sky.

The police chief said Isaac Wayne Wilson has been charged with felony malicious mischief and was being investigated for arson. Police found the suspect lying on the ground near the back of the building, CNN affiliate KCPQ said.

The mosque is asking for donations to rebuild. In recent months, backers of the fund-raising campaign said, “This center and a neighboring Islamic center have seen numerous acts of vandalism.”

January 27: Victoria, Texas

The fire that destroyed the Victoria Islamic Center mosque was intentionally set, the Houston office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives said.

The ATF, CrimeStoppers and the mosque are offering a combined $30,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of whoever set the mosque on fire.

While members of the mosque grappled with their loss, leaders of a local Jewish congregation stepped in to help — and gave them the keys to their synagogue so they could continue to worship.

February 24: Thonotosassa, Florida

A fire that damaged the Islamic Society of New Tampa has been ruled arson, Hillsborough County fire investigators said.

Authorities have not ruled whether the fire was a hate crime, but Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the attack “is no different than the wave of anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish community centers and synagogue and bomb threats that have been called in all across the country, including in Tampa over the recent months.”

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