By MARIA SUDEKUM
A mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground early Monday in the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month, and investigators spent the day combing through the wreckage searching for evidence of arson.
No injuries were reported, but the Islamic Society of Joplin’s building was a total loss after the blaze, first reported at about 3:30 a.m., the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office said. As of late Monday, nobody had been arrested in connection with the fire.
Investigators from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Jasper County Sheriff’s department were at the scene all day Monday, moving the rubble with a bulldozer and other equipment. A specially trained dog assisted.
Only remnants indicated a building had been there, including some stone pillars that were still standing and a few pieces of charred plywood loosely held up by a frame.
While investigators did their work, a small group of Muslims gathered for an evening prayer on the lawn of the destroyed building.
“This is what we stand for,” said Dr. Ahmed Asadullah, a member of the Islamic Society of Joplin. “Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech.”
It was the second time this summer investigators had been called to the Islamic center, located in a former church on the outskirts of Joplin. A fire reported around the same time on July 4 has been determined to be arson, but no charges have been filed. The FBI has released a video of a suspect caught on surveillance video and offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in that fire.
Michael Kaste, special agent in charge of the Kansas City office of the FBI, said the investigation into Monday’s fire was in the preliminary stages, and that about 30 people had been assigned to the investigation.
“Any act of violence to a house of worship is taken very seriously by law enforcement, and threatens the very core of the safety and security of our communities,” Kaste said.