As members of a Pomona mosque gathered for prayers Friday, they tried to make sense of vandalism at their religious center this week. Some Muslims suspect the incident was a hate crime, although police said it was too soon in the investigation to declare it so. Imam Ridha Hajjar told about 50 people gathered for Friday prayers at the blockish, split-level building near the San Bernardino Freeway he was uncertain whether Ahlul-Beyt Mosque was the target of anti-Muslim sentiment. According to police, vandals broke into several classrooms and stole a 40-inch flat-screen television and a donation box and pay phone change box with unknown amounts of money. I'm not sure about their motivations," the imam said, speaking in English peppered with Arabic phrases. But "if it was robbery, then why the destruction?" But others at the mosque, where worshipers are predominantly Shiite Muslims from Iraq, were certain the incident was a reaction by those who blame all Muslims for the recent bombings in London, the bombings of commuter trains in Madrid last year and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"Prejudice and religious hatred are alive and well," said Nabil Shmara, 45, a civil engineer who lives in Anaheim Hills. "This is a normal or expected backlash." "We are law-abiding people. Most of us came to this country for the opportunities for us and our children," Shmara said as he sat on the green-carpeted floor of the mosque's sanctuary for the noon prayer. "Those who did this to our mosque are the same as those who did the bombing in London…. They are also hurting innocent people." Pomona police found no sign of forced entry nor any clear-cut evidence of a hate crime, but they have said that an unknown number of people may have had keys to the mosque. Police said the burglary was discovered Wednesday and could have taken place several days before that. (MORE)