Mosque firebombing sparks outrage
TheSpec.com - Local - Mosque firebombing sparks outrage
Hate crimes unit investigating
The Hamilton Spectator
Shock and anger is spreading among Hamilton's 20,000 Muslims after the city's largest mosque was firebombed.
"They tried to burn the mosque down," said Zakir Patel, 42, principal of the Islamic School of Hamilton, which is part of the mosque.
Patel discovered the firebombing around 8 a.m. yesterday when he opened his office door. Attackers had used a large rock to smash a hole in a front window at the mosque and then lobbed in what police are calling an "incendiary device."
Javid Mirza, past-president of the mosque, said the device was still smouldering when it was found, leading many to believe the attack had occurred a short time before.
The Molotov cocktail did only minimal damage to the Stone Church Road East mosque.
The Hamilton police hate crime unit and chief arson investigator Sergeant Tim Bower are leading the investigation. Police are not discussing any possible motives.
Police would only say they discovered "evidence of vandalism at the property as well as an incendiary device" and pegged damage at about $3,000.
Chief Glenn De Caire and Deputy Chief Ken Leendertse both called mosque president Mohamedkamal Gurgi offering their condolences and support. Gurgi said De Caire also said police patrols would be increased around the mosque.
Premier Dalton McGuinty, Hamilton Mountain MP Chris Charlton and the Ottawa-based Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations were among those who condemned the attack. Gurgi also heard from representatives of the United Church and the Canadian Jewish Congress.
"Ontario's diversity is our great strength," McGuinty said last night. "So when a mosque or other place of worship is desecrated, it is an attack on all Ontarians."
The school has about 200 students from kindergarten to Grade 8.
"This is distressing and disheartening that in the 21st century people are still dealing with others this way based on their religion," Patel said. "To attack a school of innocent children -- part of me is very angry."
The incident has drawn national attention with the Council on American-Islamic Relations CANADA calling the attack “deeply offensive.”
"An attack on any place of worship is deeply offensive and hurtful. Islam promotes social justice, peaceful relations and understanding with our neighbours - both Muslims and non-Muslims,” Ihsaan Gardee, CAIR-CAN executive director said in a statement.
"Our organization calls on politicians and security officials in Hamilton to demonstrate leadership by standing firm against all forms of hate, racism and xenophobia,” said Gardee. “Such cowardly acts of vandalism, regardless of their scope, represent not only an attempt to cause physical damage but an attempt to divide communities by targeting visible and vulnerable minorities.”
“While deeply disturbing, CAIR-CAN does not believe that such incidents represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Canadians, which is why we ask our fellow citizens of conscience to join us in condemning this regrettable act.”
A brown glass bottle filled with flaming liquid had sailed over Patel's desk and smashed against the back wall of his office beside a brown plastic waste basket, setting fire to the carpet.
The shattered remains of the glass bottle, pieces of burnt carpet and a lighter found outside the smashed window have been sent to the Centre for Forensic Sciences in Toronto.
Patel said he thinks the plastic garbage pail may have saved the mosque by melting extremely rapidly and smothering the flames.
Gurgi said the mosque had not received any specific threats, but said it does receives the occasional "hate message" on its answering machine.
He said they are mostly laced with insults and include pronouncements that "you immigrants" should go back home.
The attack on the mosque comes six weeks after a racist threat against Spectator freelance columnist Hussein Hamdani had been found taped to a van belonging to Hamilton's Settlement and Immigration Services Organization.
A note containing attacks against immigrants and numerous swear words had been left along with a copy of Hamdani's column in which the eyes in his logo had been X'd out. Police are probing the threat as a possible hate crime.
The same mosque was damaged in 2001 when vandals destroyed its front lobby by smashing windows with beer bottles in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks.
At the same time, the Hindu Samaj Temple in Hamilton was destroyed in fire that police said was set by an anti-Arab arsonist who drunkenly mistook the Hindu temple for a mosque. Charges against a suspect were withdrawn for lack of evidence.
"Thank God there were no children in the school," said Gurgi.
Gurgi said the mosque had applied for security funding from a special federal program last summer for a new building wide security system. Mirza said he was told in November to expect news at or after the Christmas holidays. The mosque is seeking $45,000 from Ottawa to help pay for $90,000 worth of surveillance cameras, new lights, signs and alarms.
"That's urgent now," said Gurgi.
Charlton said she would check what has happened to the mosque's application by contacting Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan today. She said "it certainly seems" the mosque should qualify.
"This is so shocking," said Mirza. "I hope whoever is responsible turns themselves in."
Hamilton Major Fred Eisenberger said he hopes the perpetrators are caught as quickly as possible.
"This is a deplorable act against one of our places of worship. When one of us gets attacked in this way, no matter who it is, it impacts us all."
Eisenberger said he hopes to talk to the Muslim community to talk about concerns and assure them of the city's commitment to being a sharing and caring community.
"If there is a desire to meet, I would be certainly happy to go, and I would hope the police would do the same to give them a sense of comfort and understanding that the police are taking this extremely seriously."
Anyone with information is asked to call the police arson unit at 905-540-5085, the hate crime unit at 905-546-5678 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS.firstname.lastname@example.org
-- With files from Daniel Nolan, The Hamilton Spectator