Jim Malewitz, Texas Tribune
Investigators said Wednesday that someone intentionally set the fire that destroyed a mosque two weeks ago in Victoria, the South Texas town that has since rallied around its Muslim community.
But experts still don’t know who set the blaze, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said in a news release. Meanwhile, the bureau — along with the Victoria Islamic Center and Crime Stoppers — are offering up to $30,000 for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the arsonist.
“At this time, the evidence does not indicate the fire was a biased crime,” the news release said.
Federal, state and local agencies are investigating the Jan. 28 blaze, which grabbed international headlines in part because it roared through the mosque hours after President Donald Trump signed his executive order barring refugees from entering the country and restricting travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The fire completely engulfed the Victoria Islamic Center’s 16-year-old mosque, taking its financial and legal records with it, and causing about $500,000 in damage.
The charred mosque has become a symbol of the town’s unity; hundreds of people have gathered there to support the Muslim community. And people around the world have donated more than $1.1 million to aid in the cleanup and rebuilding. The Islamic Center says it will give away any extra donations after it clears the rubble and rebuilds a new place of worship.
Congregation members are “saddened and alarmed by the outcome of the investigation,” the center said in a statement Wednesday. “Despite several indications of arson, we offered prayers of hope that the cause of fire would be accident rather than intentional act.”
In an interview outside of the ash and rubble last week, the center’s president Dr. Shahid Hashmi, told the Tribune that his community would forgive anyone found to have set the fire. “But there’s no way we can forget. There’s no way our children can forget,” he said.
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