Local News

Cary FD: Electrical short likely caused fire at mosque

Posted November 16, 2018 8:47 a.m. EST
Updated November 16, 2018 10:52 p.m. EST

— A day-long investigation has determined that the fire Friday morning at a Cary mosque under construction Friday morning was not intentionally set.

Fire Chief Mike Cooper told reporters in an evening update that investigators found that the fire started close to an electrical source and it was likely an accident.

Investigators examined an electrical box outside the mosque and paid close attention to the electrical lines leading into the building.

Investigators found no evidence of an accelerant in the mosque.

An early morning fire call

More than 25 firefighters arrived at the Islamic Association of Cary, at 1076 W. Chatham St., shortly before 8 a.m. and found smoke coming from the building.

No injuries were reported, and the fire was quickly put out.

Shakil Ahmed, president of the Islamic Association, said construction crews found heavy smoke coming from the mosque when they showed up for work. Workers also found a window that had been broken in the rear of the building, he said.

Firefighters worked for hours to clear the smoke from inside.

FBI and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, the State Fire Marshal's Office and the State Bureau of Investigation assisted in the investigation, after mosque representatives said they suspected foul play.

Suspicions of a hate crime

"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," Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.

Hooper cited a bomb threat against a mosque in Charlotte in October and the recent vandalism at a mosque in Idaho.

The Islamic Center hasn't received any threats recently, but the building has been vandalized before, Ahmed said.

"Graffiti and all kinds of things, but we consider those as kids in the neighborhood," he said. "We have not been concerned and have continued building."

Cooper said investigators took those concerns very seriously.

"We take all fires seriously, every step of the investigation," he said.

Mosque is built, little by little

Ahmed said the mosque has been under construction for 10 years and was about six months from being completed.

"In Islam, borrowing money and [paying] interest is not allowed, so what we do is we raise funds every year and so that, whatever funds we raise, that’s what we do for construction that year," he said. "Little by little, we have been building."

The congregation has raised $3.5 million so far to build the mosque, which was scheduled to open next summer, he said.

The fire damage will delay the planned opening by about a year, Ahmed said.

Word of the fire spread quickly among the Muslim community. Not long after stories about it were posted online, Ahmed said, he was contacted by friends in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

"The first thing that comes to your mind is it's a threat and it's a hate crime," said Rashid Salahat, head of safety and security for the Islamic Association of Raleigh. "I hope that we never see this again. We hope to build peace and build a relationship with everybody instead of having this."

The Cary community has overall been very accepting of the center and the Muslims who go there, Ahmed said, and the fire didn't stop afternoon prayers for Muslims nearby.

"Our neighbors are very good. They accept us," he said.