SAVANNAH MOSQUE DESTROYED BY ARSON
- SAVANNAH MUSLIMS PRAY IN TENT AFTER MOSQUE DESTROYED BY ARSON
Russ Bynum, Associated Press, 8/26/03
The five men removed their shoes, knelt and prayed beneath a white
tent angled northeast toward Mecca and facing the charred shell of a
house that was their mosque before an arsonist burned it to blackened
bricks and ash.
Fire investigators say the blaze that destroyed the Savannah Islamic
Center before dawn Sunday was arson. The FBI is investigating the
fire as a possible hate crime.
Muslims who attended the mosque, where about 100 families worshipped,
said Tuesday they would continue praying openly _ even in the 91-
degree heat of the afternoon sun.
In this tent, we are seeing more people than we used to see in this
air-conditioned house, said Saad Hammid, one of the centers board
members. We already see our community is stronger.
No one was injured in the fire. But the house appeared to be a total
loss. As investigators sifted through mounds of ash, Hammid recovered
the remains of the mosques rare handwritten copy of the Quran, its
pages blackened around the edges.
After the fire, members pitched a white tent in the yard behind the
house so they could continue praying.
Its just a building, said Michael Daye, a mosque member and local
handyman. You dont cry over stones. You cry over human issues. The
actual loss is to the person who did this.
Arson dogs detected possible accelerants inside the house and samples
were sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime lab.
My investigators have determined that this was an intentionally set
fire, and we are therefore calling it an arson, Assistant Fire Chief
Stephen Miller said Tuesday.
Members of the mosque suspected as much when they first saw the
smoking ruin Sunday morning.
On Aug. 3, almost three weeks before the fire, they found five bullet
holes puncturing the door to the garage where the Muslim women would
meet. They found bullets embedded in the wall behind the door.
And on Aug. 18, a Muslim college student who prayed at the mosque
found his nearby apartment had been broken into. Someone stole some
cash and his computer, and left a note warning Muslims to leave
Savannah. The note was signed with a swastika, Hammid said.
Hammid, a pediatrician, said he has no doubts the fire was a hate
crime targeting Muslims.
Theres a shooting and then the note that was left and then this, he
said, pointing to the burned house. I dont think its a love crime.
The mosque had no sign out front _ one had been made but was waiting
to be painted in the backyard. Still, the Islamic Centers address was
listed in the phone book.
No arrests had been made Tuesday evening, said Bill Kirkconnell,
supervisory special agent of the FBI office in Savannah. He declined
to comment on the investigation.
The Savannah Islamic Center opened in November in a neighborhood of
modest homes and apartments tucked behind the strip malls and
shopping centers of the citys suburban south side.
Residents living near the mosque declined to give their names for
interviews. One man said the Muslims had been good neighbors, letting
him use their phone once when he locked himself out of his house. A
woman living around the corner said she didnt know the mosque was
there until it burned.
Hammid said several neighbors offered help after the fire. One even
gave the Muslims a hose connected to a spigot in his yard so they
could wash before prayers.
Some people were walking the street yesterday and they stopped and
said, `Were really sorry to see something like this happen, said
Mohammad Sammor, a Muslim butcher and mosque board member. We hope
good things will come out of this, things that will bring people
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