World News

Overnight fire at Florida mosque ruled arson

(Reuters) - A fire that caused minor damage to a mosque in suburban Tampa, Florida on Friday has been ruled an arson, officials said, and a Muslim advocacy group offered a $5,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest.

The overnight blaze set outside the Islamic Society of New Tampa mosque in Thonotosassa raised fresh fears of increased anti-Muslim sentiment, as mosques around the country have been threatened or vandalised.

“It is worrisome that our community have fallen victim of what appears to be another hate crime,” Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, spokesman for the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.

The organisation announced the reward money for information leading to an arrest and conviction in the case.

The flames resulted in fire damage to the building’s exterior and water damage from sprinklers inside, said Hillsborough County Fire Rescue spokesman Corey Dierdorff. No one was injured.

“We are investigating it as an arson,” he said in a phone interview.

Local Muslims and elected officials denounced the fire, as well as other recent threats to U.S. mosques and Jewish community centres.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn called on the community to stand up for anyone victimized for their religion.

“We will not tolerate this,” he said at a news conference outside the mosque. “This is America. Our America, their America.”

A fire that gutted a Texas mosque last month also was ruled as arson. It started just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring travel from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ national office said on Friday it expected to publish a report soon showing that 2016 was the worst year on record for mosques being the target of bias attacks.

Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C.; Editing by Bernadette Baum