Arson Suspected in Tennesee Islamic Center Fire

Fire at Construction site of Muslim Mosque in Tennessee
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A fire early Saturday morning at the construction site of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Officials have said that the incident is not yet being ruled arson. Investigators are "in the process of an arson investigation," according to Eric Kehn of Nashville ATF.

"It is absolutely heartbreaking," Camie Ayash, spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro told ABC affiliate WKRN News 2 in Nashville. "This has absolutely set fear throughout our community."

The older members of the congregation were very affected by this," she added. "We had a man say this morning 'God forbid someone come and try to attack me.'"

"It's Ramadan. We try to come together as a community in the evenings to break our fast together. Our attendance level has been very low because people are scared to leave their homes."

Police and the fire department in the Nashville suburb responded to a call at the site at approximately 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning and extinguished the fire. One construction vehicle was significantly damaged, while several others were doused with an accelerant but not set ablaze. It is suspected that a passerby scared off the suspects.

"There had been a lot of controversy about the building," said Andy Anderson, special agent for the BATF in Alabama and Tennessee. "There had been a lot of protests and a lot of people that had been raising flags. I'm unaware of any specific types of threats other than just some outrage in the community and flags and protesters and things like that."

"Besides being a hate crime it's such a terrible reflection on what I personally believe is the true feeling of the community," said John Green, an attorney who represents the center. "And that's one of diversity and openness."

But this is not the first time that the Islamic Center has been attacked. Twice previously vandals have targeted the signs put up by the Islamic Center, and the Center has been receiving threatening phone calls and e-mails.

ATF agents have yet to label the incident a hate crime; however, they have stated that it is entirely possible that they will do so once they have gathered all evidence in the case.

The attack comes at a time when the country is deeply divided over the construction of an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan near Ground Zero, and just four days after a New York cab driver was stabbed for allegedly for stating that he is a Muslim.

Authorities will meet with Muslim community leaders in Murfreesboro this Monday -- though the meeting had been planned before the crime took place on Saturday.

The new center will be a 52,000-sq. ft. facility that will include a pool, gym, and school, in addition to a mosque. There has been a center in Murfreesboro for years, but more space to needed to accommodate the growing community of over 250 families.

Ayash said the mosque will increase security at the construction site, and Rutherford County sheriff's deputies have already increased their patrols of the area.

The ATF asks anyone with information about the fire to come forward or call 1-888-ATF-FIRE or 1-888-289-9473.

"We wanted to ensure not just the Muslim community but all the communities that we take these types of crimes seriously, and we will do all we can to make sure that the public safety is taken care of," Anderson said.

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