A mosque in the Southern California city of Escondido was briefly lit on fire on Sunday in a suspected arson attempt, according to the Associated Press.
The blaze was extinguished by members of the Islamic Center of Escondido, and no one was injured. But police said that a note was found in the mosque’s parking lot that referenced the recent shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 people dead.
Lt. Chris Lick would not say more about the contents of the note. He noted that an accelerant was used to light the fire, and that the incident is being investigated alongside the FBI as an arson and potential hate crime.
The fire cased only minor damage to the building’s exterior, and members of the center were able to extinguish it themselves before the fire department arrived early Sunday morning, around 3:15 a.m. Seven people were inside the mosque when the fire broke out
“There are people who sleep there overnight,” Yusef Miller, a member of the center, told local NBC affiliate KNSD. “They heard the sounds, they smelled some funny smells, and there was a letter saying something connecting to New Zealand at the same time. So, this made everybody especially on edge.”
“We won’t stop praying,” he added. “We won’t stop gathering.”
Lick recommended that Islamic communities be careful and watch over their meeting places.
“Everybody should stay absolutely vigilant and watchful over their prayer centers. If there are people in the neighbor that are not supposed to be there, please give us a call,” Lick told KNSD. “We have also just re-doubled our efforts in terms of making sure that there’s a high police presence in the area.”
The mosque in Escondido was established four years ago and serves the local community, which is located just north of San Diego. A report in 2015 from KPBS found that half of the muslim students in San Diego County schools reported being bullied for their religion.