In the early morning of Eid al-Adha, the mosque that was occasionally attended by Pulse nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, was set ablaze in an intentional act of arson, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.
Video footage released by authorities shows a man entering The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce around 12:30 AM with a bottle of liquid and paper. The video shows a flash, and then him exiting. He was shaking his hand, which indicates that he may have burnt it, according to sheriff’s spokesman Maj. David Thompson. Although no one was hurt and the blaze has been contained, the fire left a large hole and peripheral damage to the mosque.
According to the mosque’s Facebook page, worshippers attending Eid prayers had been asked to attend another mosque in the vicinity. “It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce that last night around midnight, there was an arson attack on our Mosque,” the Islamic Center said. “Please keep us in your Du’as and prayers.”
The arson attack took place just hours after the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 tragedy, and in the early morning of Eid al-Adha, the second most significant holiday on the Muslim calendar. This correlation has left authorities open to calling the attack a hate crime, with further investigation. “This is a horrible tragedy not only for the Islamic Center but for our whole community,” according to Maj. Thompson. Several federal agencies are supporting the investigation.
This was not the first incident of harassment or violence at the mosque. Patrons have seen a consistent escalation of violence and intimidation since the June 12th massacre at Pulse nightclub, where Mateen took the lives of 49 patrons at the gay club, while injuring dozens more. Since the Pulse massacre, LGBQT Muslims and their allies have regularly commented about the duality of their marginalized identities; the intersectionality of homophobia and Islamophobia.
On July 2, a Muslim man was beaten and verbally assaulted outside of the mosque. Slurs included, “You Muslims need to get back to your country”. Twenty-five-year old Taylor Mazzanti was accused with the assault, and was later arrested, but released on bond on a $100,000 bond on August 12th. He is being charged with “aggravated battery.” His next status hearing will be on September 22nd.
The Monday morning of the attack, a pickup truck with a “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper sticker drove past the mosque while revving its engine. The driver raised his index finger in the air whilst driving past, making the sign for #1.
A twenty-two year old resident of the community, Michael Parsons, whose home is directly across the mosque, reported “A lot of people have been driving by hollering and yelling expletives at the church or mosque or whatever they call it.”
He continued to say, “America was founded so people can believe what they want to believe, and do what they want to do. These guys flying the American flag on their trucks don’t really know what the freedom is they’re fighting for.” Parson’s mother’s cancer doctor attends the mosque.
While today’s arson attack on The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce has yet to be labeled as a hate crime, the violence comes amidst a moment in history where such attacks are common occurrences against Muslims throughout the United States and Europe.
“Unfortunately, within the past year, we’ve seen an unprecedented rise in bigotry in our society,” Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations said. “It’s becoming a great concern to the American Muslim community.”
According to the Huffington Post’s monitoring of Islamophobic attacks, there have been 233 attacks on Muslims in the United States this July alone; the most recent of which included the assault of two Muslim women and their babies in New York City.