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The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on federal and local law enforcement officials in Albuquerque to investigate recent fires set at the Islamic Center of New Mexico as possible hate crimes.
Security video of a Nov. 27 incident shows a lone woman setting a fire outside a wooden entry door. Officials at the mosque believe she is the same woman who, on Nov. 7, tried to start a fire inside the main prayer room, and, on Oct. 31, verbally threatened the Mosque’s imam, saying she was going to “burn this place down.”
Pointing to recent hate incidents across the country, CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said, “Silence and inaction in the face of growing hate nationwide only provides encouragement to bigots targeting all minority communities.”
Law enforcement authorities in Albuquerque are already on top of it.
Security video of the fire outside the mosque, as well as the previous incidents, has been turned over by the Islamic Center to the local office of the FBI, said Islamic center spokesman Tahir Gauba.
FBI spokesman Frank Fisher confirmed Monday that the agency was working with the Albuquerque Police Department to try and determine the identity of the suspect.
“We’re asking folks if they have any information on this to call us or local law enforcement,” Fisher said, adding that it’s “too early” in the investigation to say for certain that it was a hate crime.
However, Gauba, as well as Abbas Akhil, the Islamic Center’s former president and a former state legislator, have no doubts.
“Absolutely, it was a hate crime,” Akhil said. “What other way could it be described?” He noted that video of the fire outside the mosque “is very graphic and taken from two or three different angles.”
That incident on Nov. 29 occurred between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Video shows a woman dressed in a hoodie and sweatpants attempting to gain access to the building, but thwarted by locked and secure doors. She then removes combustible items from a nearby garbage receptacle and places them on the ground in front of a wooden entry door.
“She had a pretty big flame going. It was three or four feet high, and then she took part of the burning debris to the playground, where there is tall grass and plastic playground equipment,” Akhil said.
Mechanics from a business across the street saw the smoke, called Albuquerque Fire Rescue and ran over with a fire extinguisher to put the flames out before much damage occurred. A rubber mat in front of the Islamic’s Center’s door melted into the concrete. By the time AFR arrived, Akhil said, the fires were mostly extinguished.
Akhil said video of the incident shows that the woman “was very intentional, took her time and was very calm” before walking away. “She probably knew that nobody would be at the Islamic Center at that time,” he said.
The same woman is believed to have entered the near-empty building about 9 a.m. Nov. 7, where she tried to set fire to the carpet in the women’s section of the main prayer sanctuary, said Gauba. A student at the mosque saw the woman and set off a fire alarm, causing the startled woman to run out while yelling an anti-Islamic obscenity, Gauba said.
During the evening of Oct. 31, the woman entered the building and confronted the imam, Mahmoud Eldenawi, and threatened to burn down the mosque, Gauba said. The imam spoke with the woman for about 20 minutes before she left.
Members of the congregation, Akhil said, “remain concerned for the safety of the children.”