Arson probe into Houston Islamic center fire

Investigators, who are trying to determine if the arson was a hate crime, said they found evidence of accelerant

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The Houston Fire Department launched an arson investigation following a blaze that destroyed a building in an Islamic institute in the city on Friday, officials told Reuters news agency.

Initially there was no official determination of what caused the fire at the Quba Islamic Institute in the pre-dawn hours of Friday but investigators later said they found evidence of accelerant being used, UPI reported.

The investigators also said they are trying to determine if the arson was a hate crime.

While no one was injured in the early Friday blaze at the Islamic institute, the fire destroyed one of three buildings at the center, which remains fully operational.

Islamic Center (ABC)
Islamic Center (ABC)

In a video on the institute's Facebook page, Ahsan Zahid, son of the imam, said fire officials told him the fire appeared intentional.

Zahid urged the Islamic community and supporters not to assign blame until the investigation concluded.

A Houston fire official told Reuters on Friday evening that it could be several days before the investigation would be concluded. He said investigators are not confirming arson was the cause of the blaze.

The Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called for authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for the fire that the group sees as an apparent arson attack.

In an interview with KTRK-TV in Houston, Zahid said a smashed table that appeared to be vandalism was found on the property Friday morning.

He also told the station that someone had driven by the institute Thursday evening, yelling "mocking chants," the station reported.

Earlier in the week, an unknown masked man had to be chased off the property, according to the TV report.

The Houston fire comes days after a gunman shot dead three young Muslims near the University of North Carolina, riling Muslim activists who have demanded that U.S. state and federal authorities investigate the detained suspect for possible hate crimes.

Javid Sultan, the president at the University of Houston’s Muslim Student Association said students on campus were stunned to hear about the fire at the Islamic center.

"We're trying to be more proactive because you never know when something like this happens," he said. "It's getting pretty scary, and very close to home, being harassed based on our faith."

Kenyatta Parker, public information officer at Houston Fire Department told Al Arabiya News on Friday: “I can confirm that the fire happened this morning, that no one was hurt and no one was in the building at the time.

“We currently have no official statement regarding the fire and it remains under investigation.”

He said he was unable to comment regarding reports citing the Imam and his son who said they believed the fire was either an arson attack or started accidentally by a homeless person trying to shelter from the cold.

In a statement published on the center’s Facebook page, the incident was described as a “tragic event’. It went on to explain that at “Some time around 5 a.m.this morning, a fire was started in our third building. The blaze was so hot that the complete building and all its many contents were destroyed.”

It added: “Preliminary investigation has concluded that the fire was started by a person. Who it was is unknown at this time. But the investigators have made clear that the fire was not accidental.”

Closing the statement, it added: “Please do not spread hate; spread love, tolerance, and harmony, just as Prophet Muhammad (S) did.” And added that activities at the center would continue as planned.

Responding to the statement Kenyatta Parker told Al Arabiya News he could not comment on the claim of foul play.

[With Reuters]

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