Authorities Saturday were investigating the firebombing of the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley as a potential hate crime and a person of interest was detained by deputies, the Riverside Sheriff’s Department announced.
The person of interest’s name was not released by the Sheriff’s Department.
The fire was reported at 12:09 p.m. Friday at the 1,800-square-foot building at 84650 Avenue 49. Cal Fire Riverside reported that crews contained the flames to the lobby area at 12:46 p.m., but there was smoke damage throughout the mosque. No one was injured in the firebombing.
Reymundo Nour, president of Islamic Society, told City News Service he was out of town at the time of the attack but received reports from his staff.
“Someone threw what seems to be a Molotov cocktail-like device and it exploded inside the building around the reception area,” he said.
People were inside at the time, but no one was injured, he said. The fire broke out about an hour before the start of an afternoon prayer session, when more people would have been in the building.
A Riverside County Sheriff’s Department spokesman said the call came in as a possible arson.
“This is an active, ongoing investigation,” said Deputy Armando Munoz.
Laura Eimiller of the FBI said the bureau sent personnel to the mosque to assist local authorities.
“Any time there is a concern that a house of worship may have been targeted, we would respond and have an investigative interest in (the) cause and whether or not (it was) deliberate,” she said.
This is the second time in its 18-year history the Islamic Center has been targeted, Nour said.
On Nov. 4, 2014, someone fired six bullets at the building about 5 a.m., while four people were inside for morning prayers.
Three bullets struck a vehicle, two hit the building and one lodged in a fence on the property, but no one was injured.
The Islamic Society, several other local religious congregations and other local officials offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the shooter, but a suspect was never identified.
Such attacks have a chilling effect on the law-abiding people who worship at the Islamic Society, Nour said.
“Our congregation is, of course, apprehensive,” he said. “We go to the mosque with our families. People are, of course, afraid for their families.”
Nour said that he, like Muslim leaders throughout the country, held his breath after news broke that the Dec. 2 mass shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead and 22 injured was linked to Islamic radicals.
“We are law-abiding citizens and lovers of peace, like everyone else,” he said. “We are completely opposed to any type of violence … (but) some people can’t distinguish between criminals and law-abiding citizens.”
Anti-Muslim comments from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could also serve as motivation for unsophisticated people predisposed to hateful acts, Nour said.
“I believe his comments could have inflamed some of what happened,” he said.
— City News Service