[UPDATE] Islamic Center of Tallahassee Fire

By: TFD Release; Julie Montanaro Email
By: TFD Release; Julie Montanaro Email

12.11.2010 6:10pm by Jill Chandler

Exactly one month has passed since the early morning fire on Veterans day at the Islamic Center on Florida State's campus. There are still no leads to what caused the fire.

The back of the center was engulfed in flames, a police officer saw smoke and alerted the fire department.

The Fire Department has posted signs on the property asking people to call if they have any information, but not even one call has come through.

Salah Bakhashwin is a member of the center's elected leadership council. He said. "It's upsetting if somebody come to your church, to your office, or to your home, and do that for no reason. We didn't do anything to anybody."

Because the fire happened on Veterans Day, there is speculation that it could be a hate crime.

Bakhashwin said people might have wanted to send the message,"You're not welcome here or something like that," he continues, "but I don't think so we've been here in this area for 28 years."

A long-time business across the street says the Islamic Center has always been a great neighbor.

Dwayne Edenfield owns Seminole Barber Shop. He said, "I hope it wasn't a hate crime or something like that." He also noted how friendly everyone who goes to the Center is.

Members of the Islamic community also say they hope that isn't the case, and they hope their questions will soon be answered.

Bakhashwin said, "Damage to the building is just material stuff and nobody get hurt that's a blessing"

The damages to the building are around $10,000. The Islamic community hopes to start renovating the back of the building in January.

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11.12.2010 6:45 pm by Julie Montanaro

The investigation into a suspicious fire at a Tallahassee mosque continues.

Friday, investigators with the state fire marshal's office posted "information wanted" signs near the Tallahassee Islamic Center advertising a $2500 reward for information about the suspicious fire.

Investigators have yet to determine whether the fire was inadvertently ignited by a discarded cigarette or whether this was an act of arson.

What are the chances of getting some answers?

"I wouldn't want to speculate on the chances, but we're going to do everything we can to determine the cause of the fire and who might have been responsible for that," said LT Jason Roberts with the state fire marshal's office.

The fire was spotted by an officer on patrol just after midnight Thursday. Firefighters believe it was started by a cigarette which ignited a mattress in the back yard.

Mosque leaders say they will begin repairing the damage and intend to install security cameras at the mosque soon.

If you have any information about the fire, or recall seeing someone near the mosque that time of night, call the state's arson hot-line at 1-877-no arson.

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UPDATE 11.11.2010 7:30pm by Julie Montanaro

A fire erupts at a Tallahassee mosque this morning and investigators are calling it "suspicious."

Members of the Tallahassee Islamic Center are not jumping to any conclusions and say prayers will continue there no matter what the cause.

The call came in just after midnight and by sun up the damage at the Tallahassee Islamic Center was obvious.

Investigators say the flames spread from a mattress in the back yard to the rear wall of the mosque. They aren't sure yet whether it was an accident ... or arson.

"It's probably not a good idea to speculate over who, what, where. Let them do their job and they will come back to us and let us know," said Hasan Gladney, a member of the center's elected leadership council.

A police officer on patrol spotted the smoke, called for help and grabbed a fire extinguisher from his car to battle the flames until firefighters arrived.

By the time firefighters were able to put the fire out, the fire did approximately 10-thousand dollars worth of damage.

There's still no power at the mosque, but the inside of the building was spared.

"We have a saying in Islam that says "Allah Alom" which means only Allah knows. We are thankful no one was injured and that the building is not damaged any more than what it was," Gladney said.

Major Joe Steadman with the state fire marshal's office say the fire is definitely the work of human hands. It appears to have been started by a cigarette igniting one of those mattresses.

The FBI is working the case too but both say it's too early to specify whether the fire was accidentally started by a transient or intentionally set by someone with a much different agenda.

"Obviously it's a situation we prefer not to have but these things happen. It's not only here in Tallahassee. Things happen in other areas. We'll deal with it," Gladney said.

Qazi Haq says Muslims come to pray at the Islamic Center five times a day. Its members are mostly students from nearby FSU and FAMU, he says, but there are other members from the community who pray there too.

One student says he didn't find out about the fire until he arrived at the mosque for afternoon prayers. He said he hopes it isn't arson. That he said, would be hurtful.

There will be a meeting of mosque leaders tonight to decide what to do next and discuss whether the Islamic Center should beef up its security in the days ahead.

FBI Spokesman Jeff Wescott says it did have agents on scene early this morning. Wescott says the FBI routinely investigates fires at houses of worship if there is any question about the cause. It could potentially be a violation of federal civil rights laws, he said. Wescott says the FBI leaves the technical investigation to the fire marshal, but his agents focus on possible suspects and motives.
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[UPDATE] 11-11 Noon

The state fire marshals office is investigating a suspicious overnight blaze at a Tallahassee Islamic Center.

It happened just before 1 a.m. at the Islamic Center of Tallahassee on the 1000 block of West Pensacola Street.

When firefighters arrived, they say the found an outer wall of the structure engulfed in flames. The fire was quickly put out and prevented from spreading to the inside of the building.

Firefighters say the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it appears to have started when a lit cigarette ignited some mattresses that were stacked against the back of the structure.

Damages are estimated at $10,000. The building was unoccupied, and there were no injuries reported.

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Tallahassee, Florida --

This morning at 12:51, five units from the Tallahassee Fire Department were dispatched to a reported building fire at the Islamic Center of Tallahassee on the 1000 block of West Pensacola Street. On arrival, firefighters found an outer wall of the structure engulfed in flames. The fire was quickly extinguished and was prevented from spreading to the interior of the building. The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it appears to have started when a lit cigarette ignited some mattresses that were stacked against the back of the structure. Damages are estimated at $10,000. The building was unoccupied, and there were no injuries reported.


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