DEARBORN, Mich., June 13 -- The FBI was investigating a fire and graffiti at an event center associated with a Dearborn, Mich., mosque, officials said.
On Tuesday, just before lunch, the storage structure of the Muslim Community Center owned by the nearby American Muslim Center caught fire.
The storage space, about the size of a garage, is located off of Pelham Street next to Edsel Ford High School.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Dawud Walid
Upon arriving at the center, American Muslim Center Imam Mohammad Mardini discovered white-painted graffiti of male genitalia and dashes arching in the form of a rainbow toward the word "Arabs."
Although Dearborn Fire Marshal Laura Ridenour said the cause of the fire has not been officially labeled arson, "there are some things that make it appear intentional."
She said the department is completing its investigation, including interviews, before making a final determination.
Mardini, however, believes it was malicious.
Mardini said the fire and graffiti "might be a result of the misinformation that kids get" about the Muslim community "but not necessarily acts of hate or racial.
"This is kid stuff, not an ongoing issue."
The American Muslim Center purchased the community center, a former church located at 3250 Pelham in Dearborn, about five years ago.
Dearborn Police Cpl. Mark Gorbe said a fire broke out Tuesday in a storage facility at the Dearborn Woods Community Center and graffiti was spray-painted on the facility, less than 20 feet from the American Muslim Center.
"That thing was going pretty darn good when we got there," Gorbe said. "It could have easily spread."
Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad told the Detroit News that his department was launching a full investigation of the incident, but he said preliminary reports did not support a hate crime.
"At this time, we don't have anything to suggest that it's racially or ethnically motivated," Haddad said. "As for the graffiti, we don't know whether or not it was already there before the fire. But at this point, it doesn't appear to be racially or ethnically motivated."
Haddad said there have been no problems previously reported at the storage facility. The chief declined to elaborate on what was written on the building, but confirmed that the information was turned over to the department's gang squad.
Simon Shaykhet, an FBI-Detroit spokesman, said the bureau was investigating to determine whether it was a hate crime.
"The FBI is investigating this matter," Shaykhet said in an e-mail Wednesday to the Free Press. "We are working together with our state and local law enforcement partners to determine exactly what occurred."
Local members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the FBI to investigate because the graffiti included a reference to "Arabs," said CAIR-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid, who said he believes the fire was deliberately set.
"If a bias motive is revealed in this case, the FBI should add its resources to those of local law enforcement authorities to help bring the perpetrators to justice," said Walid, explaining that similar incidents targeting mosques had occurred nationwide.
- UPI, Detroit News, TAAN