Halloween mosque fire in Wichita declared an arson

05/10/2012 5:00 AM

05/11/2012 6:31 AM

The fire that heavily damaged a west Wichita mosque early on Halloween morning was arson, a fire department official said Thursday.

The fire at 3406 W. Taft, southeast of Maple and West Street, was reported at 12:45 a.m. Oct. 31 and caused an estimated $120,000 in damage. The damage was so extensive that the congregation only returned to the mosque last Friday, Wichita Fire Capt. Stuart Bevis said.

Test results recently received from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives lab in Maryland ruled out the last possible accidental source of the fire, Bevis said. Having ruled out all potential accidental causes, Bevis said, “there’s no other reason for a fire to be there except by human hand.”

“We have somebody that we need to be looking for that intentionally set this mosque on fire,” he said. “We don’t have any real leads on who was responsible.”

Wichita police, the ATF and the FBI joined the fire department in the investigation, questioning residents in the surrounding neighborhood.

“If there was information there, we probably would have gotten it,” Bevis said. “It is information that somebody has and hasn’t shared yet, and that’s what we’re hoping to get.”

The mosque, which was the first formal mosque in Kansas when it opened in 1978, had received anti-Islam letters and been the victim of minor vandalism before the fire. But investigators have been unable to prove a connection, Bevis said.

“There has not been anything at the scene or since then to indicate this was a hate crime,” he said. “It very well could be … a crime of opportunity.”

Hussam Madi, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita, said news that the fire was arson would not change security measures at the mosque.

“If somebody did it out of hatred, that’s just out of ignorance,” Madi said. “If it is a hate crime, we really hope they prosecute him according to the law.”

Anyone with information is asked to call the fire investigation unit at 316-337-9146 or Crime Stoppers at 316-267-2111.

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