Islamic community plans to rebuild mosque damaged in blaze

Published Sept. 14, 2016

FORT PIERCE — The Islamic community says it will repair and reopen the arson-damaged mosque that was occasionally attended by Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen.

Hamaad Rahman, assistant imam of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, said the mosque's approximately 100 members are "saddened and scared" by the fire, which was started late Sunday and burned for more than five hours before it was extinguished early Monday. The fire was started on the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the start of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.

"Our community is bigger than a building. We are stronger than that," Rahman said Monday. "I feel we will be able to pull together from this, and as time goes by we will be able to rebuild."

Rewards totaling $10,000 have been issued for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist.

St. Lucie County sheriff's spokesman Maj. David Thompson said Tuesday that an arson investigation group has pledged $5,000. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has also pledged $5,000.

The mosque has been subjected to more threats since June's nightclub shooting than it did in its previous 20 years of existence, Rahman said.

Given the timing of the blaze, investigators believe it may have been a hate crime, Thompson said.

No one was injured. The fire burned a 10-by-10-foot hole in the roof at the back of the mosque's main building and blackened its eaves with soot.

A surveillance video showed a man on a motorcycle approaching the building with a bottle of liquid and some papers, then leaving when there was a flash and shaking his hand as though he may have burned it, Thompson said. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, he said.