$5,000 offered for information after doors of Cloverleaf mosque set ablaze, investigators say

By Sophia Beausoleil - Reporter

HOUSTON - The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office and Crime Stoppers are offering a $5,000 reward for tips that lead to an arrest after someone set the door of a mosque in east Harris County on fire Thursday morning. 

Fire officials, along with local Muslim leaders and members from other faiths are expected to answer questions from the community at 2 p.m. after Friday prayer. 

The fire was reported about 4:30 a.m. at the ISGH Northshore Masjid Isa ibn Maryam mosque located in 13800 block of Brownsville Street in Cloverleaf.

Muhammad Satter said he showed up for early-morning prayers to find a crime scene. 

"This is not the place, or anywhere, wherever it is -- you're not supposed to do that," Satter said. "We're supposed to love each other, you know, we're not supposed to hate each other."

According to Rachel Moreno, spokeswoman for the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office, the doors were doused in a flammable liquid.

"Nobody has said anything about any enemies, but we can tell from the pattern on the door and just the fact that there was no electricity or anything else in the area that it was intentionally started," she said.

A neighbor, who is also a member of the mosque, is credited with using water to put out the blaze before firefighters arrived.

The tires on the vehicle of the imam, the leader of the mosque, were also slashed officials said.

“It’s saddening because it’s something that shouldn't happen, it’s a place where people are worshiping,” said Osama Helmy who works in the area and prays at the mosque.  

“We want people to understand to just be tolerant a little more the way we used to be,” Helmy said. “I think it’s important for a person to try and knock on the door before burning it down. Knock on the door, ask us questions, door is open, there’s an open door policy.” 

Investigators said they are still trying to determine who set the fire. Leaders at the mosque said there are cameras installed, but they were not working at the time, but had them fixed Thursday. 

“We live in the best society in the world, the best country in the world, best city in the world and there’s no reason for us to have these kinds of incidents,” said M.J. Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, ISGH. “Of course, we are very sad and members of our community are very concerned that places of worship are not as safe as they ought to be.”

ISGH operates 22 different Islamic centers across the city, according to its website.  

Khan said the mosque in Cloverleaf is open at all times for people to worship. He said they while they have precautions in place, they don’t want it to be an unwelcoming place for those coming to pray. 

“These are places of worship, we want people to come and find peace and tranquility and we don’t want the mosques to be a fortresses,” he said. 

While what happened is concerning, he said they don’t want people to panic and for them to be vigilant. 

“We are confident that people will continue to see this place as a safe place, as a place for worship and they can come without any fear,” Khan said. 

Thursday’s arson incident comes days after a federal jury found 26-year-old, Marq Vincent Perez, guilty of a hate crime after he set a Victoria mosque on fire in January 2017. 

“In light of the fact we just had a conviction in Victoria of a mosque being burned down to the  ground, it does raise our eyebrows and our suspicions,” said Mustaffa Carroll, executive director of Council on Islamic-American Relations Houston. “We’ve seen a ramp up in hate crimes and hate incidents and these types of things definitely make us suspicious.”

Carroll said he doesn't want to jump to conclusions as to why someone would set the Cloverleaf mosque on fire.  

“I think it’s important for us to wait to see what evidence has come in and see where this investigation leads,” Carroll said. “There are certain elements in a hate crime that help you declare it being a hate crime you can’t just assume it’s a hate crime.” 

“We hope it’s just a prank or an activity just some young people do at times and it is not a hate crime,” Khan said. “Regardless of what it is, we want an investigation to take place we want the people who are behind it to be apprehended because we want to make sure this situation is not repeated again.”

Anyone with information about the case is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-8477.

The mosque released the following statement Thursday:

An act of arson took place at Northshore Islamic Center of The Islamic Society of Greater Houston located at 13818 Brownsville, Houston, TX 77015 in the early morning hours of Thursday, July 19, 2018.

The front portion of the facility suffered heavy fire damage. Harris County Sheriff Department, Houston Fire Marshall and FBI have initiated investigations and we have full confidence in their investigation.
We appeal to the community to remain calm and have faith in the ability of law enforcement and hopefully the perpetrator(s) will be apprehended soon. The ISGH officials are fully cooperating with the investigation. As soon as the investigation is complete the Muslim community will be informed of its findings.

Further, we ask community members to remain vigilant about their surroundings. The ISGH administration is taking all precautionary measures to secure our Masajid and places of worship so that we all can feel safe to fulfil our religious obligations towards Allah (God) and be able to fully participate in religious and community activities.

We appeal persons responsible to present themselves to the authorities, and anyone having knowledge of the perpetrator(s), please contact the Police. We do not wish any ill will towards any person(s) or entities and hope that such incidents will not occur again.

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