ADELANTO - A federal agency is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for a fire that gutted a mosque. Authorities, though, have not determined whether arson sparked the Friday blaze that destroyed the mosque at the United Islamic Youth Organization Cemetery. It is the only Muslim cemetery in Southern California. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which is offering the reward, continues to investigate the fire and awaits lab results that could show it was set on purpose, said John Torres, special agent with the ATF. "(This is) a very important case for us,' he said. "We want to make sure we have all the tools available for investigators.' He said lab tests will show whether flammable liquids were used, which would indicate the fire was set intentionally. He also is looking for any evidence showing the fire was an accident. "It's suspicious until we can prove otherwise,' Torres said.
He said he hopes the reward will generate more leads into the incident at the remote High Desert cemetery, two miles north of Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. It is not unusual for the bureau to offer rewards, particularly in cases in which a house of worship is destroyed by fire. The ATF offered money in the case of the 5 a.m. Sunday fire that gutted Palm Baptist church in Riverside, Torres said. Tips called into a hotline proved helpful, leading to the arrest of two suspects, he said. Michelle Khawaja, wife of the Muslim cemetery's caretaker, Ali Khawaja, said the couple were unaware the ATF is offering a reward. She said she's thrilled authorities have taken this step and hopes the attention the fire has received will spur sheriff's deputies to increase nighttime patrols at the cemetery. She said the cemetery's managers also are considering hiring a security guard to patrol the burial grounds at night. "It's a shame we have to do that, but we just can't have the mosque burn down every six months,' she said. (MORE)