The Slatest

Police Investigating Fire at California Mosque as Hate Crime

A police car is parked near the Islamic Society of Palm Springs in Coachella, California on December 11, 2015, after the area was sealed off when a fire broke out at the mosque.  

Photo by GUILLAUME MEYER/AFP/Getty Images

Law enforcement officials have come to the conclusion that a fire that erupted in a mosque in Coachella, California on Friday was intentionally set. A 23-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of committing a hate crime and booked on five felony charges related to the fire that was sparked at around noon on Friday. People were praying at the time of the incident but everyone managed to get out on time and no one was injured. The mosque’s acting imam told the Desert Sun the building had been “firebombed.”

The fire at the mosque marked the latest in a string of incidents that police are investigating as potential backlashes to the San Bernardino shootings that killed 14 people, notes the Los Angeles Times. “Obviously it’s really upsetting, and it’s very unfortunate. In this case, in Coachella, we don’t know the motive behind it yet,” Ojaala Ahmad, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles, said. “It just comes to show how real ‘Islamaphobia’ is, how scary and how threatening it can become, and how dangerous Islamaphobia is to our nation and fellow Americans.”

The fire comes on the heels of the release of new data that suggests 2015 “has been one of the most intensely anti-Muslim periods in American history,” notes CNN. Through December 8, there have been at least 63 incidents related to anti-Muslim bigotry at mosques and Islamic centers in the US, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It marks the highest level since 2009, when the group began keeping track of the incidents.