A fire that damaged a mosque in California is being investigated as a potential hate crime after investigators say they found a message written in graffiti making reference to the recent shooting at two New Zealand mosques that left 50 people dead.
As the Herald Courier reported, fire crews responded to a report of a fire early Sunday at an Escondido mosque. Investigators said there were seven people inside the Islamic Center of Escondido when the fire was reported at 3:15 a.m., including one who was awake and spotted the flames.
Police said the people inside the mosque were able to extinguish the flames before it caused any serious damage, though a wall was blackened from the fire. They called 911, and fire crews that responded determined that the fire had been intentionally set.
As ABC 7 reported, police are investigating the fire as a potential hate crime. They have not announced if there are any suspects.
In the wake of the potential attack, police and local religious leaders are warning other mosques to be on high alert and notify authorities of any suspicious activity.
“Everyone should remain absolutely vigilant and watchful at their prayer centers,” Escondido police Lt. Chris Lick told the Herald Courier.
“If there are people who are not supposed to be there, please give us a call.”
It was not clear exactly how the note outside the mosque made reference to the attack in New Zealand, where an avowed white nationalist is accused of attacking two mosques armed with a cadre of guns, killing dozens of unarmed men, women, and children.
The alleged attacker in New Zealand had written a manifesto in which he referred to Muslim immigrants as invaders, a sentiment echoed by many white nationalists both in Europe and the United States.
In Escondido, members of the mosque said those inside at the time were lucky to have detected the fire before it was able to spread any further.
“There are people who sleep there overnight,” member Yusef Miller told The Associated Press.
“They heard the sounds, they smelled some funny smells, and there was a letter saying something connecting to New Zealand at the same time. So, this made everybody especially on edge.”
Police say they are investigating an apparent arson attempt Sunday morning at a California mosque, where a note referencing the Christchurch mosques attack was left. https://t.co/HimUomgE6n - @nbcsandiego— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 24, 2019
In Escondido, the local community has responded to the potential attack against the mosque with a prayer vigil on Sunday night to show support. It was expected to draw people from across different faith communities to support the Muslim congregation targeted in the alleged arson.