13 Sep 2016

Orlando gunman's mosque set on fire

12:00 pm on 13 September 2016

Police are investigating a fire at the mosque that was attended by the Orlando nightclub gunman who killed 49 people.

In this image obtained from the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, firefighters put out a blaze at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Florida on 12 September.

In this image from the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office, firefighters put out the blaze at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in Florida on 12 September. Photo: AFP / St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office

Surveillance cameras show a suspect approaching the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce moments before Monday morning's blaze, fire officials said.

The fire may have been timed to coincide with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the anniversary of 9/11.

Omar Mateen committed the worst mass shooting in modern American history in June when he opened fire in the Pulse nightclub.

He was killed by police after taking hostages and declaring his allegiance to Islamic State.

The blaze burned a 3x3m hole in the roof of the mosque's main room.

Someone was filmed "just moments before a flash is seen and the fire starts," the St Lucie County Sheriff's Office said on Facebook.

"A fire at any place of worship is alarming, regardless of the circumstances," it said.

Sheriff's office spokesperson, Major David Thompson, said it was a "horrible tragedy. Not only for the Islamic Center, but for our community".

 FBI agents investigate near the damaged rear wall of the Pulse Nightclub where Omar Mateen allegedly killed at least 50 people on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. The mass shooting killed at least 50 people and injuring 53 others in what is the deadliest mass shooting in the country's history.

The scene of the shooting in Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Council on American-Islamic Relations' Florida spokesman Wilfredo Amr Ruiz said the arsonist was "terrorising our community because we don't know where he is at and we don't know what he is capable of doing".

"For this to happen to us on the morning of our biggest celebration of the year has made everyone saddened and scared, but our community is bigger than a building," Mr Amr Ruiz said.

"We are stronger than that."

Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, are investigating.

The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce has experienced other trouble in recent months.

A few weeks after the nightclub shooting, a man was badly beaten outside the mosque.

Motorists frequently stop to shout abuse at worshippers, including the driver of a truck who stopped to hurl insults earlier that same day, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In addition to Omar Mateen, the mosque was also visited by Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, who became the first American to commit a suicide bombing attack in Syria.

-BBC

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