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Texas mosque destroyed in early-morning blaze; cause unknown (w/video)

A blaze was reported at the Islamic Center of Victoria around 2 a.m. Saturday in Victoria, Texas. Its cause is currently unknown.
A blaze was reported at the Islamic Center of Victoria around 2 a.m. Saturday in Victoria, Texas. Its cause is currently unknown.
Published Jan. 29, 2017

VICTORIA, Texas — An early morning fire Saturday destroyed a Texas mosque that was a target of hatred several years ago and experienced a burglary a week ago.

A clerk at a convenience store spotted smoke and flames billowing from the Islamic Center of Victoria around 2 a.m. and called the fire department.

"It's sad to stand there and watch it collapse down, and the fire was so huge," said Shahid Hashmi, the Islamic center's president. "It looks completely destroyed."

Victoria Fire Marshal Tom Legler asked for help from the Texas Fire Marshal's Office and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to determine what caused the blaze. Hashmi said authorities have told him it was too early to speculate.

"None whatsoever right now," the center director said. "We don't have any lead or information as to what started the fire and what happened. So I'm sure it's going to be a few days, they told us, before they can come up with any answers for us."

The congregation's imam was awake in the early morning hours and checked online surveillance of the mosque and found no alarm active and the doors unlocked, Hashmi said.

On Jan. 21, someone broke in and stole some electronics, including laptops.

"He was worried about it and drove over there," Hashmi said. "By that time, fire engines were already there pouring water on the fire."

The structure was built in 2000.

No injuries were reported. It took about four hours to extinguish the blaze.

Hashmi, who has lived in Victoria for 32 years, said the congregation of about 140 has had few other problems and has enjoyed support from the city, tlocated about 115 miles southwest of Houston.

Hashmi said he has already received offers of temporary quarters for the congregation to worship.

"When 9/11 happened, Muslims and non-Muslims, we all got together," he said. "Of course, we will rebuild."