UPDATE: Suspect arrested in Indiana.
Toledo-area Muslims are reeling from an arson fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, but are grateful for an outpouring of support from the local interfaith community.
“All the support we get is very welcome because if you are going through a tragedy and you have a friend who is holding your hand it means a lot,” said Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for the United Muslim Association of Toledo.
Perrysburg Township police said Tuesday evening that a suspect has been arrested and is in custody in Fort Wayne, Ind., for the Sunday evening arson blaze at the highly visible mosque just south of Toledo. Surveillance footage from the Islamic Center, located at the junction of I-475 and I-75, showed a “person of interest” -- a white middle-aged male wearing a camouflage sweatshirt and hat -- at the mosque's entrance shortly before the blaze, which was reported about 5 p.m.
Detective Sgt. James Gross said Perrysburg Township police and the Ohio State Fire Marshal have identified the individual in custody and are continuing an investigation with help from the FBI and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Gross did not name the individual but the Ft. Wayne Journal Gazette reported that Randy T. Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind., was arrested at his workplace on Tuesday and was being held at the Allen County Jail until an extradition hearing. He faces charges in Ohio of aggravated burglary, carrying a concealed weapon and two counts of arson.
Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center, said the suspect poured gasoline in the center of the main floor where men worship at the mosque. Women pray on the same main floor, but in an area separated by a low divider.
“It was set in the men’s prayer area and the sprinklers turned out the fire. There is a lot of water damage from the sprinklers,” Islam said. “The Islamic Center is uninhabitable for easily three months.”
She said the Islamic Center is making plans for an interfaith prayer session on the mosque’s grounds at 1:30 p.m. Friday, the time Muslims normally hold Juma prayers, their main service of the week.
“All the faith communities are invited to come and join us in solidarity,” Islam said.
The mosque has received many phone calls and emails of support from non-Muslims in the Toledo area, Islam said. The outpouring reminded her of when Toledo Christian radio station YES-FM organized a prayer rally at the mosque a week after 9/11. In the wake of 9/11, someone had fired a bullet from the road through one of the mosque's stained-glass windows.
More than 1,500 people of all faiths turned out on Sept. 18, 2001, holding hands as they encircled the Middle Eastern-style mosque and prayed for the safety of those who worship within.
Rev. Steve Anthony, executive director of Toledo Area Ministries, said he and his organization that represents 125 Christian churches and faith-based agencies are outraged by the arson attack and will do what they can to help local Muslims.
“Any attack on a house of worship, no matter what faith, is deplorable and should be condemned,” Anthony said. “And there’s no room for that in a pluralistic society. We should respect each other’s houses of worship.
“I want to be a part of whatever [local Muslims] are doing to support them,” he said.
Islam said there is no information yet on a possible motive for the blaze.
“It’s difficult to draw a conclusion as to whether it’s connected to world events, or a simple case of Islamophobia, or if this is someone who is a pyromaniac,” she said. “Unless we find him and talk to him we don’t know.”
But the damage to her house of worship is “heart-rending,” she said.
“It’s so painful to see. It goes to my heart to see the prayer area where there is now a crater, a black crater.”
She said the fire reached high enough to shatter lightbulbs on a chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
“You can smell the gasoline. The main damage is in the prayer area but the rest of the Islamic Center has water damage,” Islam said.
There were no services or organized activities at the mosque at the time of the fire, she added.
The Islamic Center’s school, which has between 25 and 30 students from pre-kindergarten to fourth grade, is temporarily canceled until an alternative site is found. The Sunday sermon and weekend school classes at the mosque also have been canceled.
Islam said mosque officials are discussing what they will do until the center is repaired. Insurance officials inspected the building on Monday night, she said.
Members of the Islamic Center will likely worship under a tent on the mosque grounds as long as the weather permits, according to Islam.
The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, an Islamic advocacy group, announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the arson perpetrator.
CAIR released a report Sept. 18 citing a spike in anti-mosque incidents following an attack Aug. 5 on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in which six people and the gunman were killed. Eight Muslim places of worship were targeted between Aug. 6 and Aug. 18, compared to 10 such incidents in the first seven months of 2012, according to CAIR.
A mosque in Joplin, Mo., was burned to the ground in what officials termed a suspicious fire on Aug. 6.
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has reported community opposition to 53 mosques and Islamic centers across the United States in the last several years, including one in southwestern Ohio.