Recent mosque burglaries in Chandler and the city of Maricopa are now being linked to similar crimes in Alabama and Virginia.
Surveillance images taken at the mosques seem to show the same suspect, a white man with a paunch between 30 and 50 years old.
Police believe that theft, as opposed to a hate crime or terrorism, is his motive. Still, the suspect's pattern so far seems to have excluded houses of worship of other religions.
Surveillance photo from February 25 break-in at a mosque in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Chandler Police detective Ryan Kotsur told an Alabama newspaper on Wednesday he believes the photographs show the same man.
"It definitely looks like our suspect, and in my opinion it is the same guy," Kotsur told the Anniston Star
after a reporter there showed him several photos.
Kotsur could not be reached on Thursday morning, but Chandler police Sergeant Daniel Mejia said he spoke with Kotsur briefly, and that the detective confirmed the report.
"Based on the photos that the Alabama newspaper sent him, because of the strong resemblance, he believes it might be the same suspect," Mejia said.
Mejia added that the detective is now in contact with police in Alabama, and that the case remains under investigation.
Police sought the public's help after the March 30 break-ins at the Islamic Center of the East Valley at 424 North Alma School Road and the Masjid Bilal Rabah mosque in Maricopa, which occurred about an hour apart. The suspect forced his way into the Chandler mosque and stole an undisclosed amount of money, cops said; what he stole from the Maricopa mosque wasn't made clear.
On March 10, someone broke into the Gadsden Islamic Society and the Anniston Islamic Center in Alabama, stealing donation boxes. A few days before that, a safe was stolen from a mosque in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that contained money and a handwritten Quran.
According to media reports, the FBI notified Alabama Islamic leaders at the time that a possible link was being drawn to the crimes in that state and a February 25 burglary at a mosque in Blacksburg, Virginia. FBI officials in Arizona didn't return a message on Wednesday morning.
Kotsur told the Anniston Star
that he hadn't realized the Arizona crimes might be linked to those in other states before the newspaper contacted him.
"This is news to me," he reportedly said.
Police ask anyone with information about the crimes to call Silent Witness, 480-WITNESS, the Chandler Police Department at 480-782-4130, or the Maricopa Police Department at 520-568-3673.
Surveillance photo from March 10 burglary at the Gadsden Islamic Society in Alabama.