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Investigators Search For Arsonist After Fire At Mosque Of Orlando Shooter


Federal authorities are investigating a fire at a mosque in Fort Pierce, Fla. The gunman behind June's Pulse nightclub shooting sometimes worshipped at this mosque. The late-night fire was set as the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was ending and the Muslim holiday of Eid-al Adha was beginning. Jill Roberts of member station WQCS has more.

JILL ROBERTS, BYLINE: The street passing in front of the Islamic Center in Fort Pierce is usually busy. Today the traffic slows as motorists watch the technicians collect evidence at the mosque which is now encircled by crime scene tape. Major David Thompson with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office says mosque surveillance video shows a man approaching the building after midnight.

MAJOR DAVID THOMPSON: He was holding a bottle of some sort of fluid and what appeared to be some papers or something like that. Shortly after the individual approached the building, an immediate, very large flash was observed in the video footage.

ROBERTS: Thompson says as the man ran away he was shaking his hand and may have been burned. There have been several incidents at the mosque since the June shooting rampage at the Orlando nightclub, including a Muslim man who was beaten in the parking lot on his way to prayer. This worries neighbors like Ariana Borez. She doesn't attend the mosque but is shocked.

ARIANA BOREZ: I just think it wasn't right. It was a very mean thing to do.

ROBERTS: She says she understands.

BOREZ: Me and my family have had to strip down when we were little because we were told that we were Muslim. I'm not even Muslim. I'm not. I was raised in a Catholic church by my grandmother.

ROBERTS: Mosque members are on edge. Wilfredo Ruiz is with the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He says the situation grew from threatening phone calls to the assault and now arson.

WILFREDO RUIZ: Minutes before he set this mosque on fire, not even an hour before he set this mosque on fire, it was occupied by people of this community.

ROBERTS: Now members of the mosque had to travel to other locations to celebrate today's Muslim holiday, and they don't know when they'll be able to return. For NPR News, I'm Jill Roberts in Fort Pierce, Fla. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jill Roberts

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