ESCONDIDO (CBSLA) — Authorities are investigating whether a possible arson-sparked fire that broke out at a mosque in the northern San Diego County community of Escondido early Sunday morning was a hate crime because graffiti was left behind at the scene referencing the terror attacks in New Zealand.

Outside the Islamic Center of Escondido on March 24, 2019. (KFMB-TV)

The fire was reported at around 3 a.m. at the Islamic Center of Escondido, located at 318 W 6th Ave., Escondido police told San Diego’s CBS affiliate KFMB.

There were seven people inside the mosque at the time, and they were able to put out the blaze quickly with a fire extinguisher, KFMB reports. There were no injuries.

The fire caused minor damage to the exterior of the building, police told KFMB. No one got a glimpse of the suspect or suspects.

Graffiti was scrawled on the building referencing the March 15 shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand which left 50 people dead and dozens more injured, Escondido police Lt. Chris Lick told KFMB. The exact wording of the graffiti was not disclosed.

“We’re all vulnerable, we’re out in the open,” Yusef Miller, a member of the mosque, told reporters. “We’re obviously Muslim. When our sisters come, they’re wearing hijabs. They know we have a center here.”

“Islam is about peace, it’s not about hating people, it’s not about harming people,” mosque member Mohammed Essa Sahial added.

The FBI and ATF is assisting the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and Escondido police with the investigation.


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