Council on American-Islamic Relations offers reward in mosque fire

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PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, MI – The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is preemptively offering a reward for information, should a fire at a Pittsfield Township mosque be ruled arson.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating the fire, reported at 4:59 p.m. Saturday, March 11, at a mosque at 5909 W. Michigan Ave. The address appears to be the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti, which also serves as a mosque, and Pittsfield Township detectives and fire investigators are assisting in the investigation.

Pittsfield Township Fire Chief Sean Gleason said Sunday there was no clear indication either way of whether the fire had a suspicious cause. Given the building’s use as a mosque, the department called ATF.

The Michigan chapter of the non-profit civil rights and advocacy group, CAIR-MI, is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction of a perpetrator, if the fire is ruled to be arson, Dawud Walid, executive director of the chapter, announced Sunday.

“Given the rash of mosque burnings that have taken place across the country since January, we are concerned and suspicious that the incident may be arson,” Walid said.

Media reports indicate that four mosques in the U.S. went up in flames in the first two months of 2017, with three of the incidents confirmed as arson.

In a release, CAIR-MI stated there has been an unprecedented spike in hate incidents targeting Muslims and other minority groups since the 2016 U.S. elections.

“The Muslim community in Michigan, in general, is concerned about the anti-Muslim sentiment that has increased across America,” Walid said. It’s particularly concerning with the high number of practicing Muslims in Michigan, he said.

Walid said there are heightened suspicions in the Pittsfield Township incident, because the township previously denied plans for an Islamic school – a move which led to settlements in 2016 in separate lawsuits filed by the U.S. Justice Department and Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Walid said the council is demanding, if the incident is ruled arson and the motive is determined to be bias, that the FBI and the Department of Justice investigate and bring federal hate crime charges.

CAIR-MI asks that anyone with information about the fire or anyone who may have seen suspicious activity in the area prior to 5 p.m. Saturday, contact local authorities as well as CAIR-MI.

Pittsfield Township police can be reached on their tip line at 734-822-4958 and CAIR-MI can be reached at 248-559-2247.

Darcie Moran

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