JOPLIN, Mo. —
About a month after the roof of the Islamic Society of Joplin’s mosque was damaged in a suspected arson, the entire building burned down in a suspicious fire early Monday, leaving little but charred remains.
The wreckage of the structure was still smoldering at 8 a.m. as Carl Junction fire crews started to leave the scene. They received a call from a newspaper carrier around 3:30 a.m.
The incident came a day after the deadly shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
The FBI has about 30 agents investigating the fire, said Michael Kaste, special agent in charge of the Kansas City FBI office. He said it would continue to be characterized as “suspicious” until a cause could be determined. He said the investigation was in its preliminary stage.
“If this fire is determined to be deliberate in nature, it will be investigated to the fullest extent possible,” Kaste said. “Any act of violence to a house of worship is taken very seriously by law enforcement, and threatens the very core of the safety and security that our communities enjoy.”
He said if it’s determined that the fire was deliberately set, the $15,000 reward offered for an arrest in the July 4 fire at the mosque would be extended to cover Monday’s fire.
An outdoor sign at the mosque was burned in 2008. That crime was unsolved.
‘A TEST FROM GOD’
“This should not stop us from serving God,” said Imam Lahmuddin, the mosque’s religious leader, at the scene. “We still have to fulfill our obligation. We will do our prayers in other places. If we don’t find a place, we will do our prayers in our home. We cannot miss any of the five prayers.”
Lahmuddin said the members of the mosque do not have plans yet for where they will pray, but it is still early.
“We just take this as a test from God. God is testing us,” he said. “This is the month of Ramadan. We are fasting. We are not supposed to get angry. We are not supposed to say anything bad. But that’s not only for this month, but for every day of our lives. In Ramadan, we are more careful in guarding our tongues, not to say anything inappropriate. We come here during the month of Ramadan more often. Last night (Sunday) we left at about 11:20 p.m. when we finished final prayers, and we were supposed to get in here about 5 a.m. for the morning prayer. But God has a plan.”
The mosque, located at 1302 S. Black Cat Road, serves about 50 families in the area.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Omar Ahmed, 15, who came to the scene around 5 a.m. “It’s a house of worship. It’s a place of God.”
Some people like to stay the night at the mosque during Ramadan, Ahmed said, but no one was in the building at the time of the fire.
“The whole thing was on fire,” Ahmed said. “As soon as we turned on 32nd Street and Black Cat Road, you could just see the pillars (of smoke).”
During the month of Ramadan, which ends on Aug. 18, Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. At the end of the month, they will celebrate Eid-al-Fitr.
“It’s basically our Christmas,” Ahmed said.