One day after an unknown suspect set fire to a recycling bin outside of the Islamic Center of Tucson, the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim civil-rights organization in the nation, has asked local law-enforcement agencies to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime and Islamophobic attack.
The fire was ignited at about 5 a.m. in a blue recycling bin that was pushed up against the south side of the mosque, says Mahmoud Obagi, outreach coordinator of the Islamic Center. The ICT reported the incident to CAIR.
"Someone inside the center smelled burning plastic, and they looked around and saw smoke, so they called 911," Obagi says. "The Tucson Fire Department responded and was able to put out the fire." No one was hurt, though about 30 people were inside the ICT at the time.
Though many other area businesses have similar bins, no other receptacles were targeted — a fact Obagi says makes him and others believe the fire was intentional.
"Right now, it's just an assumption. But based on previous acts, we're led to believe this is another incident of Islamophobic attacks," he says.
While Tucson never experienced anything like the heated Jon Ritzheimer-led anti-Islam rallies that occurred last summer in Phoenix, the ICT has been the target of multiple vandalism and harassment incidents in the past year.
Towering over the ICT is a relatively new University of Arizona dorm, and students have been known to throw glass bottles or other garbage out of the windows and at the building or its adjacent parking lot.
So far, reports Lynn Hourani of the ICT, no one has gotten hurt, and the ICT and UA are in ongoing talks about installing a net over the mosque to collect the garbage.
"That's what we have experienced — we've never experienced anything quite as severe as a fire," she adds. "We're all quite concerned."
"With multiple incidents targeting this specific mosque in the past year, there is definitely cause for concern about a possible bias motive for the fire," CAIR's Imraan Siddiqi writes in a statement. "We hope that law enforcement exhausts every lead possible, as our Tucson community members feel a sense of compromised safety. All Americans have the right to access their house of worship without fear of being targeted."
Obagi says he has been in touch with arson investigators at the Tucson Fire Department, and that they're looking into the incident.
"Unfortunately, two weeks ago, we had a huge monsoon that took out two of our security cameras, and one of those cameras was in the area [of the fire]," Obagi says, adding that he and others are hopeful that cameras attached to the building next door, a credit union office, captured the cause of the fire.
CAIR-AZ civil operations coordinator Kristy Sabbah says that in the past, the group has reported suspected Islamophobic incidents to the FBI, but that as of now this investigation remains local.
"This mosque alone has been targeted with multiple incidents, so we definitely have a cause for concern," Sabbah says.