By Roger McKinney
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are offering a $15,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the July 4 fire at the Islamic Center of Joplin mosque.
The reward is composed of $10,000 from the FBI and $5,000 from the ATF.
To help solicit information, the agencies released surveillance video from the mosque fire. Previously only a still photograph taken from the video had been released.
The fire, about 3:30 a.m. on July 4, caused minor damage to the roof and there were no injuries. Someone driving by reported the fire before it could spread.
Eric Jackson, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s Kansas City division, said the FBI takes attacks against all religious institutions and houses of worship seriously.
“The reason that we’re offering this reward is that since this incident occurred the morning of the Fourth, a number of leads have been run out by the local sheriff’s department, and FBI and ATF, and at this point, those leads have started to dry up,” Jackson said. “What we want to do is bring this to the attention of the public and gain the assistance of the public in helping us to identify who this individual is.”
Jasper County Sheriff Archie Dunn asked residents to call in even if they suspect something.
The video shows a man walking casually toward the mosque from the north. The mosque’s flagpole is seen in the video. The man is wearing a long-sleeved, dark-colored shirt. He is carrying an item the size of a backpack in his left hand. The package has a long, thick fuse attached to it, hanging from the bottom of the package. The man lights the fuse with his right hand and tosses the package on the roof of the mosque with his left hand. The man is shown running to the east, through the mosque parking lot.
The authorities at the news conference wouldn’t say what material was ignited.
Dunn asked viewers to make note of the man’s short gait.
“He does seem to have an unusual running style,” Dunn said. “I would ask that you pay attention to that. That could be a characteristic to identify somebody with. He doesn’t run like a sprinter.”
Authorities said the man’s clothing, including the long-sleeved shirt, could help someone to identify the man.
“Somebody in this area’s going to know this guy — no doubt about it,” said Josh Nixon, supervising agent at the Joplin FBI office. “If we can just get them to call. That’s what we need.”
Jackson said the FBI’s facial recognition software wasn’t successful in identifying the man in the video. The video also will be taken to an FBI lab to try to further enhance the images.
Dunn repeated that no determination has been made about whether the crime will be prosecuted as a federal hate crime until a suspect is arrested and his motivation is determined.
“We’re going to investigate the case,” Nixon said. “If it’s determined that a federal crime has been committed, we’ll pursue a federal prosecution.”
Donald Higgerson, resident agent in charge of the ATF Springfield office, said other federal statutes may also apply, which may allow for federal prosecution.
Jackson said investigators have no indication that the individual in the video had any assistance from anyone else.
Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., welcomed the news when reached by phone. CAIR had issued a news release after the fire asking that it be investigated as a possible hate crime.
“I think this is an indication that the FBI and local law enforcement are taking this seriously, and we appreciate it,” Hooper said.
He said he hopes the reward and the video will motivate people to call with information.
“In these cases, usually somebody knows who did it,” Hooper said. “These people start bragging to their friends.”
AUTHORITIES AT MONDAY’S news conference provided these phone numbers for people to call with information about the mosque fire:
FBI Joplin field office — (417) 206-5700.
Jasper County Sheriff’s Department, Detective Tim Williams — (417) 358-8177, ext. 1223.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — (417) 837-2100.
Missouri Division of Fire Safety’s Arson Hot Line: 1-800-392-7766.