National Muslim group wants bias probe in fire at Cary mosque

A national Muslim group is asking state and federal investigators to look into whether a fire at a Cary mosque was a possible hate crime.

But investigators said late Friday evening they believe the fire wasn’t intentionally set. They traced the cause to electrical tools on the site.

The State Bureau of Investigation and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were on the scene Friday at the mosque being built by the Islamic Association of Cary

The fire was reported at 7:55 a.m. and was put out a short time later. The blaze was contained to the first of three floors of the green-domed building at the corner of West Chatham Street and Trimble Avenue..

No one was hurt, and there was no damage estimate.

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Earlier, firefighters were working to determine the cause.

“We haven’t concluded anything, yet,” said Cary Battalion Chief Matt Jacoby. “I am not prepared to say it is suspicious or not suspicious at this moment. There was not a lot of combustible material but what’s there burned up.”

Jacoby said the federal investigators made the choice to join the investigation.

“They help us from time to time,” he said. “They felt it was appropriate to step in and take a look with us.”

Rashid Salahat, chairman of safety and security for the Raleigh Islamic Association, said he got a phone call about the fire shortly before 8 a.m.

“I dressed and came right here,” he said. “When I saw it, I knew that wasn’t a good sign.”

Salahat was allowed inside and took some video that showed the scorched interior of the bottom floor.

He saw a K-9 sniffing for any leftover flammable liquids that may have been used to start the first but none were found, investigators told him.

Members stopped by throughout the day to see what they could.

Omar Baloch, a local attorney, said he wanted to see how badly the mosque was damaged. “It’s concerning,” he said. “I’m hoping it was electrical but I fear it’s not. When you hear about these incidents, it’s concerning.”

Preliminary data indicate 927 hate incidents targeting American Muslims this year, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which describes itself as the nation’s largest Muslim rights and civil advocacy group.

“Given the recent rise in hate targeting American Muslims and other minority communities, we urge state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate the possibility of a bias motive in this case,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in a news release..

An official with the center told CAIR that a window was found broken Friday and that the construction site had been vandalized in the past, according to the news release.

Outside the mosque Friday afternoon, Ameer Shakil Ahmed of the Islamic Association of Cary said members are disappointed.

“It was just about complete,” he said. “We got a call this morning there was smoke coming out of the building. I don’t know how much damage was done.”

The mosque, which will be called the Islamic Center of Cary, has been under construction since 2008, Ahmed said. It’s being built with money collected from the members because Islamic tradition forbids taking out loans with interest. They’re spending about $4 million to construct the center.

“Our goal was to move in next summer, but now I don’t know,” Ahmed said.

A GoFundMe campaign was set up Friday for the mosque. The goal was set at $100,000. Donors already have pledged $1,350.

Ron Gallagher 919-829-4572 @RPGKT