More than a year after an arsonist severely damaged their mosque, members of the Islamic Education Center of Tampa celebrated its reopening to worshippers Saturday.
About 25 people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, gathered for the observance, held in the room where someone splashed a flammable liquid through a broken window on the east end of the building and ignited it April 12, 2007.
"This sets an example for the rest of the country – how to respond when a community is under attack," Ahmed Bedier, the former executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said of the rebuilding effort.
A representative of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office was on hand to help mark the occasion, which included prayers, speeches and a slide show of the damage and subsequent reconstruction.
"When I was here that day, as a law enforcement officer and as an American, it hurt me quite deeply to see what happened," said sheriff's Detective Lisa Haber, the office's Crime Stoppers coordinator.
Despite offers of a reward that once reached more than $12,000, no arrests have been made in the case, Haber said. The FBI became involved because of the possibility the arson was a hate crime, but no determination has been made.
The fire caused about $100,000 damage to the building at 6450 Rockpointe Drive, located west of George Road between Hillsborough Avenue and Memorial Highway. The slide show depicted shelves of blackened holy books and Korans and drywall-charred ceilings and walls.
The room where the fire occurred and other areas of the center that sustained smoke damage were rebuilt with the help of volunteers and about $50,000 in donations. The building was not insured.
"I remember coming here last year and seeing the devastated looks on community members, law enforcement officers, everybody who came out here to help," Bedier said. "It's one thing to see a crime; it's another thing to see a crime at a house of worship."
Haber said the culprit or culprits may never be caught.
"We wish that this was a case that was solved," she said. "It may never be solved, but we won't give up." (MORE)