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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. Momof3

    Folks,I sincerely feel it's not race or religion which creates these kind of sparks n other nonsense stuff, its the people.A true believer of Christ,Krishna or Allah who follow the religious books truly will be a human being for sure n not Devil.God is watching everything n those who goes against his wishes n will be deftly put on trial,I bet.I hv my own friends who are muslims n hindus n christians n beleive me we can all share a meal from a single plate.Thats the beauty of human relationships.Lets learn to love n share n not develop hatred for others.We all are one!One mother's children!!Mother Earth's children!!!!Its the climate n topography that changed our colours n traditions and not religion.We all r sparkling beads of a beautiful necklace.Lets not break it.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  2. sam

    Ok People. Calm down. They know its an arson. But did they say who did it? A taxi driver gets attacked and there is lot of publicity for it. The mayor goes on personal visit and gives a press conference. Then a few days later some arson etc. I would not put this as some political conspiracy to build guilt in Americans. A few days ago an Indian man was beaten to death in New Jersey by 3 teenagers. No Mayor visited that family.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:04 am |
  3. icecat77

    that's too bad. i guess now that since america is such an intolerant country, all the muslims should go back to saudi arabia.

    September 4, 2010 at 12:00 am |
    • Joe

      guess Christians should go back to Palestine (MIDDLE EAST) because that's where Jesus is from..Educate yourself bro..YOu might find things in common. Like Islam is the only NOn-Christian religion that believe in Jesus...Peace

      September 4, 2010 at 12:21 am |
  4. Reality

    It is very likely that said planned mosque is being built by Sunnis and the arson was due to Shiites or vice versa. Happens every day around the globe with these two groups and their bloody centuries-old feud.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  5. coder2

    I often wonder how can one be "racist" by criticizing Islam...so Islam is a "race"?? Wow, so many new races. Let's do a detailed evolutionary biological study of the Catholic race. How they evolved, their unique facial characteristics including how there mandibles adapted to eating wafers and drinking wine, how they adapted to extreme heat or cold.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  6. Anthony

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

    I live about a mile and a half from this proposed site. Their "patrols" include a single cruiser sitting in the little gravel driveway they've constructed with his lights on, obviously not trying very hard to perform any kind of surveillance or catch someone in the act of doing something illegal. The police traffic along Bradyville Pike hasn't increased one bit that I've noticed, and I travel the road at least 5 times a day.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  7. sagebrush shorty

    Religion is the opiate of the masses............Karl Marx.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  8. Joshua Ludd

    And still... they won't call it terrorism when (most likely white) christians do it.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
  9. after hardship comes ease

    the muslims ruled Spain for over 800 years, there were churches, and synogogues there as well. All three religions respected each other, that is the way it is supposed to be. Also, there are plenty of christian arabs. Some are born christian, in lebanon, jordan, etc. so of course there has to be at least one church in each country?! are they burning them down?

    September 3, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  10. plantseeds

    the difference between "in the USA", and in "Muslim" countries is that if the tables were reversed, if it were in a muslim country and a non-muslim place of worship was being built, the members and builders of the place of worship would have also been burned. consider yourselves lucky to be in america.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  11. flyfysher

    What a shame someone would commit a crime like this.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  12. USA401

    The tea party and republicans are to thank for this. All the hateful talk about Muslims has lead to arson of a religious center in a country founded on religious freedom. Keep up the good work guys, your showing the world we are bunch of hypocrites.

    September 3, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  13. run and tell that

    Well damn...

    September 3, 2010 at 11:12 pm |
  14. MashaSobaka

    “Fire at mosque ruled the work of arsonists. This is Captain Obvious, reporting live for the Department of Redundancy Department.”

    September 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  15. probablythem

    Love how everyone neglects to realize or consider that Muslims themselves could be the cause for the arson? Seeing the building tension in NYC, what better way to get the sympathy vote by burning down your own mosques?

    September 3, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  16. freepalestine

    christian terrorism

    September 3, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  17. after hardship comes ease

    I am a muslim american, I was born here, and have nowhere else to "go back" to. My family is american, and my grandparents were brought here by slave owners, we have been here for years. Muslims should have the same civil rights of freedom of religion just like jews, christians, etc. expect and receive. I am not an extremist, I don't even know anyone like that, my family isn't terrorists. If someone would like to google books on what muslims think of terrorism, you can. There are plenty out there, but I have to admit, I havent seen anyone on TV give a speech condemning terrorists, I have seen some on youtube, but the public would never know. I don't think it is anyone's right or business, to condemn someone else, judge not, judgement is for God only. Also, Allah isnt the moon god, he is just God. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God, just like jehovah, yahweh, etc. I am saddened by the comments of the people who group all muslims into one category, there are billions of us, and the ones you see as terrorists, they arent even the majority! It scares me that, one day America may decide to put us in concentration camps, for something I didnt do, something I had no control of. what kind of life is this? there is sooo much hatred towards us, and even after reading these comments, I am not angry, I am disappointed, hurt, and saddened by your inability to educate yourselves, without the use of the media.
    p.s no bomb threats coming from over here!

    September 3, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
    • AFSGT

      The only thing I would clarify in your comment is that you said Muslims "should have" the right to religious freedom. They do have the right to religious freedom. It's guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States of America. All these ignorant extremists who say Muslim should go home should recall the first white people to come to America. They were mass murderers who conquered the savages and stole their land. Who was murdered and who were the killers? The native American people were murdered by the white guys who took what they wanted. People who claim all Muslims are terrorists should then put themselves in with everything the white man has done including murder.

      September 4, 2010 at 2:40 am |
  18. Ben

    To all the people who islamaphobic morons, you disgust me. I'm sickened to live in the same country as you people who fail to acknowledge some of the most basic rights we Americans have. You people need to get out of my country, not the Muslims.

    I hope they catch the person who did this and I am so very glad that sentence enhancements for hate crimes have been held as constitutional.

    September 3, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
  19. joe

    more bigots at work...but even worse hillbilly bigots..

    September 3, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • Ala

      Hillbilly your a racist asshat

      September 4, 2010 at 11:11 am |
  20. joopitor

    Anyone who feels these acts of arson are justified against anyone needs a swift kick in the butt, where your limited supply of brains must surely reside.

    September 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
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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.