Muslims in Oregon have said they feared a spate of revenge attacks after a mosque used by the Christmas tree bomb suspect was set ablaze.
The attack on the Salman Al-Farisi Islamic Centre in Corvallis came two days after the arrest of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, accused of trying to detonate a vanload of explosives at Portland’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony. Muslims said they feared the mosque blaze could be just the first volley of misplaced retribution.
The charges against Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born US citizen who was caught in an FBI sting operation in a state that has been largely accepting of Muslims, have shocked those who know him, who say they had no idea he had become radicalised.
The fire at the Islamic centre was reported at 2.15am on Sunday local time, and evidence at the scene led authorities to believe it was started intentionally, said Carla Pusateri, a fire prevention officer for the Corvallis Fire Department. Authorities said they believed the centre was targeted because Mohamud occasionally worshipped there.
Arthur Balizan, special agent in charge of the FBI in Oregon, said there was no conclusive link to the attempted bombing in Portland or specific evidence that it was a hate crime, other than the timing.
US Attorney Dwight Holton vowed to prosecute the case aggressively, saying: “The fact is that violent extremists come from all religions and no religion at all. For one person to blame a group, if that’s what happened here, is uniquely anti-American and will be pursued with the full force of the Justice Department.”
Mohamud is appearing in court on Monday accused of plotting to carry out a terror attack on a crowd of thousands at Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square.
On Friday, he parked what he allegedly thought was a bomb-laden van near the ceremony and then went to a nearby railway station, where he is said to have dialled a mobile phone that he believed would detonate the explosives, according to the FBI. Instead, authorities who had been monitoring him moved in and arrested him. No-one was hurt.
Sunday’s fire, burned 80% of the centre’s office but did not spread to worship areas or any other rooms, said Yosof Wanly, the centre’s imam.