A Florida place of worship frequented by the alleged perpetrator of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history was set ablaze on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, officials said Monday.
Major David Thompson from St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office said it was a “horrible tragedy not only for the Islamic center but for our community.”
He said “evidence has revealed that this fire was set intentionally.”
“Right now, we are not sure exactly whether this is a hate crime or just an arson,” Thompson told reporters. “Of course with what is going on, because this is a place of worship and this incident occurred on the anniversary of 9/11, we are going to explore that.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling the fire at a Ft. Pierce mosque a hate crime.
CAIR-Florida Spokesman Wilfredo Ruiz said the Ft. Pierce Islamic Center is worried about its worshipers.
“It may well be done with people inside because less than an hour before it was set ablaze, there were people inside that mosque,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz said incidents at the mosque have been escalating starting with hate-filled voicemail following the Pulse massacre.
The sheriff’s office shared a video online that showed a “lone individual either of white or Hispanic ancestry” disembark from a “Harley Davidson-style motorcycle” and enter the mosque complex made up of several buildings, some of them wooden, just before midnight.
He then started a fire near the center of the complex, potentially by using a bottle of fluid he carried with him, causing “substantial damage to the mosque — both the interior and the exterior,” Thompson said.
The Fort Pierce Islamic Center came to national attention after Omar Mateen, who frequented the mosque, allegedly killed 49 victims and wounded dozens at a gay night club in Orlando in June.
The arson also coincided with Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Mateen pledged allegiance to the Daesh terror group on an emergency 911 call before being shot dead by police officers inside the club.