Investigators have not ruled out the possibility that an arson fire set at a mosque in Antioch early Sunday morning was a hate crime, Antioch police Sgt. Tammany Brooks said today.
FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were called in to help local authorities investigate the fire, which began at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday at the Islamic Center of the East Bay, located at 311 W. 18th St., Contra Costa County Fire Protection District spokeswoman Emily Hopkins said.
Four separate fires were set inside the mosque and one of them burned out of control, causing an estimated $200,000 in damage, according to Safaa Ibrahim, director of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Somebody also made a hole in one of the walls, possibly to gain entrance to the building, Ibrahim said.
"The FBI takes hate crimes very seriously and is committed to aggressively investigating any potential hate crime that falls within its jurisdiction," Patty Hansen, a spokesperson for the San Francisco division of the FBI, said today. "We're working to determine if a hate crime has occurred."
Meanwhile, ATF investigators have sent evidence collected from the scene to its greater Bay Area lab for forensic analysis, ATF spokeswoman Nina Delgadillo said today.
Although Muslim leaders are waiting until authorities make a final determination about whether or not the mosque was targeted because of the faith or cultural ethnicity of its members, Ibrahim said, "We do see it as a violent act . . . It's an act that terrorizes the community."
Ibrahim said that the estimated 400 Muslim families living in Antioch are "definitely scared."