x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 24 November 2017

Mosque burning alarms US Muslims

Muslim communities in the United States have been cautioned to be extra vigilant after two apparent mosque attacks in two days.

WASHINGTON // Muslim communities in the United States have been cautioned to be extra vigilant after two apparent mosque attacks in two days.

The warning from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) also came after the mass killings at a Sikh temple on Sunday, with Sikhs often mistaken for Muslim due to their turbans and beards.

Cair's Ibrahim Hooper said the advocacy group had released an advisory since mosques are busier during Ramadan, especially the Holy Month draws to a close.

"We felt it was necessary to put something out there," Mr Hooper said, suggesting mosques in isolated communities were particularly vulnerable.

The advisory was issued after a man armed with a hammer was caught on video apparently destroying a sign at a mosque in Rhode Island on Tuesday.

On Monday morning, a mosque burnt to the ground in Joplin, Missouri. Local authorities and the FBI were trying to determine whether the fire at the Joplin Islamic Center was arson.

Cair has also called for more police protection at mosques and other houses of worship following the attacks and has offered a US$10,000 (Dh36,700) reward for information about the mosque fire.

The investigation was still in its early stages, said Bridget Patton, an FBI spokeswoman, but the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were already offering a $15,000 reward for information about a previous suspected arson attempt at the same Joplin mosque.

On July 4, an unidentified white male was caught on surveillance video throwing a burning object onto the roof of the mosque. That time, the fire caused only minimal damage.

Imam Lahmuddin, the mosque's leader, said he was "sad and shocked" by the latest fire. "Maybe there is something we are supposed to learn from this."

Yesterday, St Philip's Episcopal church was to host an iftar dinner for the town's Muslim community, now with nowhere to congregate. Along with the Islamic Center, the United Hebrew Congregation and three other local churches, St Philip's has hosted a number of interfaith events in the past and Father Frank Sierra, St Philip's priest and director, said it was an important time to be involved.

"When a part of the family is hurt, another part of the family steps in to help."

The interfaith meetings began after Joplin, a town of some 50,000, was devastated by a tornado in May last year that killed 161 and injured more than 900.

The UAE Embassy in the US has been particularly active in helping the town rebuild. The UAE donated more than $6 million to help rebuild a local hospital and high school, and, in August last year, volunteers from the Emirates travelled to the small town to assist Habitat for Humanity, a national volunteer group that build homes for those in need, with their efforts there.

Muslims across the US were already on alert after a man opened fire inside a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday, killing six.

The FBI was investigating the shooting as a possible case of domestic terrorism, and Sikh community leaders have described the killings as a hate crime.

The shootings have raised fears in both Muslim and Sikh communities that they may face a spike in crimes targetting their respective communities.

okarmi@thenational.ae