CAIR calls for probe into New Jersey mosque fire

A national Muslim civil rights group wants authorities to investigate a weekend fire that damaged a mosque as a potential bias crime.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations on Tuesday asked authorities to launch a hate crimes investigation into the fire that damaged a rear porch and wall at the National Islamic Association mosque in Newark on Sunday.

The first worshippers arriving at the mosque before 6 a.m. prayers found the back porch and part of a wall ablaze, said Ashraf Latif, the mosque’s president. “They ran and got some mats and started beating the fire, and someone else got some water and they put it out before the fire department got there,” he said.

Latif said the fire appeared to have begun in some coils of rope that someone put on the back deck. An investigator with the fire department who came said he smelled some accelerant on the ropes,” Latif said.

John Brown, a spokesman for the Newark Fire Department, said the cause of the fire will not be determined until Thursday at the earliest. He could not comment on Latif’s assertions that a flammable substance was detected.

Latif said the mosque has received some anti-Islamic mailings in recent years, but nothing that caused its members undue concern. There have been no overt threats recently, he said.

“Historically, there has been no anti-Islam sentiment in Newark,” he said. “This is a great place. We just want a full investigation to determine if this was set by someone outside the community for whatever reason, or if it was some bum trying to get warm.”

The mosque, which has 140 registered families who worship there, was not seriously damaged by the fire, Latif said.

Associated Press, 23 January 2007