16 February, 2015

Texas Islamic center gutted in arson attack

Texas Islamic center gutted in arson attack
Sun, 15 Feb 2015 13:16:27 AST
Saudi Gazette | WASHINGTON — A large fire destroyed a building belonging to an Islamic center in the Texas city of Houston early Friday and US police suspect arson, members of the institute said.

It comes just days after three Muslim students were shot dead in a North Carolina university town in what the victims' families say was a hate crime.

"The blaze was so hot that the complete building and all its many contents were destroyed," the Quba Islamic Institute said on its Facebook page, adding that other buildings as part of the organization were undamaged.

"Investigators have made clear that the fire was not accidental."

Houston fire officials were not immediately available for comment.

Images from the local ABC television station showed a large blaze and column of smoke at the building that was primarily used as "storage for books, renovation supplies, and furniture."

Worshipers said the fire was particularly troubling after an attack in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday that left three Muslims dead.

"A lot of people have the feeling that perhaps the mentality is the same," Ahsan Zahid, son of the institute's imam, told the Los Angeles Times.

Houston has grown increasingly diverse as it expanded during the past decade to become the fourth-largest city in the US, home to the state's largest Muslim community of at least 57,000 and 22 Islamic centers and mosques, according to the Texas State Historical Assn.

Texas has the eighth largest Muslim population in the country, more than 420,000, according to the association, and ranked third in the country for the state with the most mosques — 166 — after New York and California, according to a 2011 study.

Zahid, 25, who was born in Saudi Arabia but has lived in the US since he was 5 years old.

Four years ago, another Muslim center in southwest Houston was attacked by arsonists who were caught on surveillance video but never charged.

Zahid and others at the fire scene Friday cited examples of increased "Islamophobia."

Last week, he said a young woman wearing a headscarf was accosted by a passing driver, who told her to go to North Carolina because "they know how to take care of you people."

A few days ago, Zahid and his father noticed a suspicious man lurking around the institute with his face covered, but he ran off before they could question him.

On Thursday night, a man in a pickup truck drove past the institute, mimicking Arabic and mocking those who had gathered for evening prayers. — Agencies

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