Arson scatters mosque members

Published April 21, 2007

TAMPA - Their mosque destroyed by arson, they had promised to keep holding Friday prayers.

They thought they could make do with a tent. But no one prayed on the grounds of the Islamic Education Center of Tampa that day, about a week after an arsonist burned the prayer hall, leaving behind only singed prayer rugs, charred Korans and a gasoline can.

The arson, still unsolved, caused more than $100,000 damage to the prayer hall. The building wasn't insured.

The tent proved expensive to rent, and mosque leaders haven't decided what to do. They said they looked for a rental, but didn't have any luck.

"It's not that easy to just pick up and find some other place," said Ahmed Bedier, executive director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Worshippers scattered to other mosques.

Law enforcement doesn't know who set fire on April 12. The FBI has received some leads, but needs more. The reward for a tip that leads to a conviction: $12,500.

The fire started in the morning, when someone poured gasoline in a window, investigators said. At that time of day, it was empty.

For 15 years, worshippers have come to the mosque. Children come on the weekends for lessons. Adults come on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for prayers and religious programs.

Abbas Hashemy, 49, a trustee at the center, said he wants to ask the arsonist what prompted the fire.

"Kids come to play. People come to pray. What have these people done to him that makes him so upset?" Hashemy said.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 813 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

How to hel

- Donations for the mosque may be sent to Islamic Education Center of Tampa, c/o CAIR, 8056 N 56th St., Tampa, FL 33617.

- Questions? Contact CAIR (813) 514-1414 or e-mail tampa@cairfl.org.

- Anyone with information on the arson may call the FBI at 1-866-838-1153. Callers may remain anonymous.