The FBI, Homeland Security, and other state law enforcement agencies are investigating the fire that tore through a New Haven mosque on the seventh day of Ramadan as possible arson.
New Haven police said earlier this week that they believe the fire at the Diyanet Mosque, which started around 4 p.m. Sunday, was set intentionally and cited “incendiary evidence” found at the scene.
Nobody was hurt in the fire; only one person was in the mosque at the time. But hours later, by sunset, the mosque was packed with congregants who’d gathered for evening prayers before breaking their fast with the Iftar meal.
So far, investigators are staying tight-lipped about possible motives or suspects.
“There is evidence to suggest Sunday’s fire at a New Haven house of worship — a mosque, to be more specific, during the holy days of Ramadan, no less — was both intentional and incendiary in its nature,” New Haven Mayor Toni N. Harp said in a statement. “If the ongoing investigation of the fire proves this to be true, the city will bring all resources to bear to bring in those responsible for the attack.”
Mosque President Haydar Elevli told the Hartford Courant that the damage from the fire wasn’t severe and mainly impacted parts of the mosque under renovation.
“We’re not gonna be fearful, but still, it hurts,” Elevli said. “This is our second home.”
As of Wednesday morning, members of the mosque were still waiting for the all-clear before being permitted to go back inside to continue their observation of Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, marked by fasting and communal prayer. The Diyanet Mosque, built in 2010, includes apartments and classrooms, has a 350-strong congregation, and is owned by a nonprofit that caters to Turkish immigrants and Muslims.
Elevli said he was heartened by the donations pouring in through the fundraiser that was set up by local religious leaders. As of Wednesday morning, they’d raised $102,000 of their $120,000 goal.
The fire comes alongside a slew of attacks on houses of worship. Most recently, a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, left one dead and three injured. The son of a sheriff’s deputy in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana, is also facing hate crime charges for allegedly burning down three black churches in the area. And less than two months ago, a white supremacist killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Last month, the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford — just 36 miles north of the Diyanet Mosque — also received a violent, racist threat to burn down its temple. The imam of the Islamic Center told the Hartford Courant that about half a dozen families stopped sending their kids to weekend school after they got the threat.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Connecticut announced plans to free up $5 million in state funding to ramp up security at houses of worship.
Cover image: Construction at a mosque being built with support from the Turkish-American Religious Foundation sits suspended, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017, in New Haven, Conn. (AP Photo/Michael Melia)