By Jeff Lehr
The FBI has taken over an investigation of the torching of the sign for the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque as a possible hate crime.
Somebody set the sign for the mosque at 1302 Black Cat Road on fire early Thursday morning. The Carl Junction Fire Department responded to a 1:26 a.m. report of the fire.
Fire Engineer Bill Nauta said there’s no doubt that the fire, which ruined the wooden sign, was deliberately set. Nauta said he could not tell if an accelerant had been used.
“I didn’t see anything spilled,” he said. “They would have to sample something at a lab.”
The Jasper County Sheriff’s Department was notified of the arson and initiated an investigation, but the case was taken over on Friday by the FBI.
“I think this is a hate crime, yes,” said Navid Zaidi, treasurer for the board of directors of the Islamic Society of Joplin.
Zaidi said the mosque has not been the object of much racial or religious animosity since opening in February 2007. Someone stole two air conditioners from the mosque in the summer of that year, but that could not be construed as hate-motivated, he said.
More recently, a Muslim family leaving the mosque after a service was offended verbally by some young men in a pickup truck who had stopped to look at the sign, Zaidi said. They yelled some things that the family could not make out but sensed were racially hateful, he said. Zaidi did not know if that incident could be related to the fire.
The mosque’s congregation has grown to about 40 families, with some coming from as far away as Springfield and Tulsa, Okla., Zaidi said. It is open for prayer five times a day and is especially busy right now in the month of Ramadan, he said.
The sign was just put up two months ago. Zaidi said that it read “Islamic Society of Joplin” in both English and Arabic, with the Arabic lettering in the shape of a crescent.
“There was some discussion whether we should have a sign at the mosque or not,” Zaidi said. “The board decided we should because we are a part of the community and we want to identify who we are and where we are.”
An evidence-collection team from the Kansas City office of the FBI by Friday afternoon was at the mosque.