Investigators: Cause of Joplin mosque fire unknown

By JIM SALTER

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Investigators announced Thursday that they have been unable to determine the cause of a suspicious fire that destroyed a southwest Missouri mosque that was a previous arson target.

About three dozen investigators with the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Missouri Division of Fire Safety and Jasper County Sheriff’s Department had been in Joplin since the fire at the Islamic Society of Joplin on Aug. 6. No one was hurt, but building that served as a mosque for about 50 families was destroyed.

Investigators said in a joint news release that for now, the official cause is “undetermined,” though the investigation remains open and the finding could change if new information is brought forward.

Another fire at the same mosque on July 4 was determined to be arson when surveillance video captured a man setting fire to the mosque roof. No arrest has been made.

Phone numbers for the Joplin center weren’t working. But Faizan Syed, executive director of the St. Louis chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the undetermined cause was very frustrating for Muslims in Joplin and elsewhere.

“Most of the frustration has to do with the fact that it has been attacked many times before, and every time there hasn’t been much response by police to keep the building safe,” Syed said.

He noted that after a fire burned a mosque in Wichita, Kan., in October, investigators took seven months to determine it was arson.

“Obviously after that long nobody is going to be brought to justice,” Syed said. “The Joplin community feels it’s going to take so long to determine what happened that anybody who did it is going to go free just like in Wichita.”

The news release said the on-site investigation in Joplin involved scene reconstruction, sifting through debris and several interviews. Rewards totaling $25,000 have been offered for information on the fire.

“Investigators are actively following all leads and request the public to report any information about the fire,” the release said.

Joplin residents have worried that the mosque’s destruction paints a picture of religious intolerance in the southwest Missouri city, and many have railed to support the city’s Muslim community. Since the second blaze, an online fundraising effort has generated more than $400,000 to rebuild the center in Joplin, far exceeding the $250,000 goal.

In response, the Islamic Circle of North America, a Muslim relief organization, donated 500 backpacks full of school supplies to thank Joplin residents for their support

The Joplin center opened in 2007 as a mosque and community center. A rally in support of Muslims in Joplin is scheduled for Saturday.

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