September 3rd, 2010
06:45 PM ET

Tennessee mosque site fire an arson, feds say

A fire last weekend at the construction site of a future mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, has been determined to be arson, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives spokesman said Friday.

Lab reports indicate that accelerants were used to start and spread the fire, which destroyed an earth mover and damaged three other vehicles at the future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, ATF spokesman Eric Kehn said.

There are no suspects in the arson, which occurred early Saturday morning, Kehn said. The investigation is ongoing and the ATF and FBI are offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect or suspects, authorities said at a Friday press conference at the construction site.

"Somebody here in Rutherford County knows what happened here," said Keith Moses, an FBI assistant special agent based in Nashville, at the press conference, which featured representatives from the Islamic center.

"Whether or not we have a civil rights hate crime will be determined once we have a suspect or suspects and a motive," Moses said.

The FBI, ATF, and Rutherford County Sheriff's Office are conducting an ongoing investigation. Federal authorities and members of the Islamic center had suspected that the fire was intentionally set.

"We were expecting to hear it but in the back of our minds we were hoping for the best, that it was some kind of electrical fire," Camie Ayash, a spokeswoman for the Islamic center, told CNN on Friday. "It ingrained into our heads that this is definitely arson and that somebody did intentionally go out and do this."

The Islamic center's board has decided to hire private security for the site, Ayash said, after the contractor for the project suggested it. She expects a private security firm to start monitoring the site after hours beginning next week.

The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office has stepped up patrols of the site since the fire, driving by about every 30 minutes, she said.

The blaze has "really raised the fear factor" among area Muslims, Ayash told CNN earlier this week.

"We see the different type of fear with our children," she told CNN's "American Morning."

"It is very hard to explain to children what is going on. It is hard to explain to the little kids when they ask you, 'Mommy, are these people for us or against us?' "

A candlelight vigil, organized by Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom in response to the fire, drew about 100 people to the Rutherford County Courthouse on Monday night.

The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has existed in the Murfreesboro area for more than a decade, according to its website, and currently meets about a mile from the site of the future mosque.

The congregation purchased a 15-acre plot in 2009 and announced plans for a center that will include a mosque, educational facilities, a gym, cemetery and various recreational areas, including tracks, pavilions and a playground.

The project has provoked controversy in Murfreesboro, about 35 miles southeast of Nashville, and statewide.

In July, several hundred opponents of the mosque staged a march against the project. Some objected to Islam itself, carrying signs like "MOSQUE LEADERS SUPPORT KILLING CONVERTS," while others opposed the project for environmental reasons.

Last month, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey publicly criticized the project. "You could even argue whether being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, a cult, whatever you want to call it," Ramsey, then a candidate for Tennessee governor, said at a rally.

Ramsey placed third in Tennessee's Republican primaries last month.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Houses of worship • Islam • Mosque • Muslim • Tennessee • United States

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soundoff (561 Responses)
  1. theboldcorsicanflame

    A hidden camera shows streets blocked by huge crowds of Muslim worshippers and enforced by a private security force.

    September 4, 2010 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Wise

    I'm surprised CNN allows all these paid bloggers by foreign governments (Israel) to fill up these pages with nonsense and make it sound like they are Americans.

    September 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      Hmm not sure about that...but I'd rather not believe some of them are really American too!

      September 4, 2010 at 6:08 pm |
    • whiz

      Oh yes very much so the israelis. And I will be thinking too many americans even. Raise a burning flag to them!

      September 5, 2010 at 1:21 am |
  3. Gwenn Britt

    Well all in all the Muslims are not our friends and when all the bleeding hearts are done taking up for them maybe they will be glad to ware the head wraps and and hot clothing. Keep it up and the whole US will be under the Muslim rule, that is what they want and that is what they are doing. I wish we had Bush back. He would not let them take over America..

    September 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  4. Sidd

    I am an Indian (non-muslim), and I would like to tell you Americans that you need to be very careful about the creeping Islamisation of your country.
    India has been suffering from Islamic terrorism long before it hit America, and we have lost tens of thousands.
    That the authorities are even considering building a mosque at ground zero is ridiculous and points to how naive (or sold out) they are.
    At this rate, the muslims will repeatedly carry out terror attacks and then demand that a mosque be built at the site!
    Before you know it, USA will become UEA...United Emirates of America.

    September 4, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  5. Dogma

    In Tennessee if its not African American churchs its Mosque's they are burning.

    September 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  6. mr man

    i don't trust islam, don't be suprised they end up using it as a training center for terrorists. again let me ask what is happening to christians in countries predominantly moslems. check out morroco, afghanistan, pakistan, malaysia, somalia, egypt, saudi arabia etc, stories of persecution against christianity u'll get will amaze u, besides islam =terrorism.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  7. igirocks

    In order not take a chance in hurting someone with this stupid ARSON attempt. They should have gone to a Local butcher shop and purchased several PIG carcasses and buried it on thier site. CASE CLOSED the muslims are forbidden to but a terror camp where pig remains have been discovered. Perhaps a few Patriotic souls out there will do the same in Lower Mathantten. But be sure to call the Press and tip of of the Patriotic deed....

    September 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  8. Bill in Florida

    I realize that I'm not going to say anything to change anyone's mind; however, I'd like to point out that many Muslims are just as patriotic about their love of the USA as anyone else. I am not a Muslim; I am a Christian. The USA has had periods of religious intolerance with Christians persecuting a variety of religions and races. That fact is totally undeniable and you don't have to take my word for it.

    Roger Williams founded the colony or Rhode Island to provide a haven of religious freedom from the Puritans, who persecuted Jews, Baptists, Quakers and Native Americans. He was far more devoted to Christ than most of today's Christians, but he saw Native Americans as spiritual equals and encouraged the people of Massachusetts not to take land by force from Native Americans, but to buy it honestly from them. That’s why the Puritans persecuted him.

    When Rogers founded Rhode Island in the 1600s, he also propounded the idea of the separation of church and state. As a result, many people settled in that colony and Rogers’ idea took root in our country. It informed the writers of our founding documents. Jefferson later wrote that it was with the separation of church and state in mind that they wrote the First Amendment into the Constitution. Here is the exact quote:

    “Believing... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.” −Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802. ME 16:281

    Christians were present when our country was founded. Many of them signed the Declaration of Independence and authored our founding documents. That does not mean that the USA was founded on Judeo-Christian principles alone. Our founders incorporated some of those ideas, but they also drew from a number of secular sources such as the Magna Carta, the Justinian laws and the humanist philosophers of their times.

    Our country is a secular nation with secular laws that partially overlap with Judeo-Christian ideas, because right is right regardless of religion. Everyone here deserves life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness ─ not just Christians. I know we wouldn't want the government to tell us we couldn't build our churches, because it was inappropriate to build so close to various groups the church persecuted and destroyed in the past. We have no business telling anyone they can't build a house of worship just because we don't like them at a particular moment in time.

    I know some people will say that they don't allow us to build churches in the Mideast. That isn't entirely true, but even if it were, it would not justify equally ugly behavior in our nation. If the USA truly is a better place to live than anywhere else in the world, then it will become even more tolerant, and "E Pleribus Unum" will actually begin to mean something. We have a long way to go, and burning down mosques or denying Muslims the right to worship isn't getting us there.

    September 4, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  9. Donald

    I am glad it was set on fire. These muslims hate us. Is it not obvious? They are not welcome in this country. I hope it continues to happen so maybe they will get the message and go home. They hate us!

    September 4, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  10. Ala

    Dear Muslims this is Ala and I am sad to say even I hate you!!!

    September 4, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  11. critters

    its a shame that most potlictal party that critizxes the project are republicans. this hate and crime is wrong. let them have there place enough with the hate.... what is wrong with people.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  12. Michael

    As a Tennessee resident, and a former student at MTSU in Murfreesboro, this burning of a mosque is embarrassing to me.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  13. Mellen

    "america is a melting pot", of what? intolerance, hatred, murders, rapists, extremists, molesters...shall I go on?

    September 4, 2010 at 10:42 am |
  14. Saddened

    All the news reports of increasing intolerance and public comments in those articles leads me to believe one thing – we as a society are doomed.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:40 am |
  15. Joshua Ayers

    I went to college in Murfressboro. I am from the general area. This story makes me sick and ashamed, but it doesn't surprise me. The south, in general, is filled with extremely hateful and undereducated people. That quote by the Lt. Gov at the end of the article is ridiculous and disgraceful.

    This is more proof that the opposition to the ground zero masque has nothing to do with location, it has everything to do with fear and hate of a usually peaceful religion. My fellow Christians need to remember that their own religion is filled with periods of violence and extremism.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:30 am |
    • mr man

      mr joshua, r u strong enough to endanger ur life by cohabiting with terrorism? pls let me have ur answer.

      September 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  16. Mellen

    humanity will be the death of itself. we fight over petty differences. My religion is better than Yours...this is stupid. Violence is committed by the weak minded not a religion as a whole. Come on people, when are we going to realize that we are repeating the past over and over again. Let's drop the stereo types and view each other as human. We "humans" can achieve great things but it seems more like we can only do horrible things.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:25 am |
  17. towelhead

    Go back to your sand box and leave us alone

    September 4, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  18. Ike Abootment

    So the fire was an act of arson- please excuse me while I feign surprise.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  19. Joe

    I am Arab and I can say you are all infidels. I will build my mosque ontop of your trailers because I can afford to. I can come to America and buy everything up own it all and kick you ignorant americans out. Your fear of looking like a racist will be your demise. Thank you for being a soft hearted loving american that i can exploit. Fools

    September 4, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • NoGods

      that is the worst imitation of a muslim I have ever heard! Nice try on attempting to fear monger people into hating 'arabs' as you call them. get a life troll, there are no gods.

      September 4, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  20. Manic Drummer

    Kind of makes up for all the centuries when Muslims didn't allow Jews or Christians to build their own houses of worship. What goes around comes around. Sorry, but after you've spent almost two millennia depriving others of their rights, it should come as no surprise that you'll face extreme resentment. Muslims are nothing special.

    September 4, 2010 at 10:06 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.