Arson Suspected in Tennesee Islamic Center Fire

Construction Site Fire Not the First Attack

ByABC News
August 29, 2010, 12:46 PM

Aug. 29, 2010 -- 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.