Mosque burns in Bellevue; police arrest homeless man for arson | KUOW News and Information

Mosque burns in Bellevue; police arrest homeless man for arson

Jan 14, 2017

Updated 8:42 p.m.

A fire burned down most of a mosque in Bellevue early on Saturday morning, just one day after a man was charged with a hate crime for threatening members of that mosque in October.

There were no injuries.

The fire was first reported at 2:49 a.m. at the Islamic Center of Eastside (Bellevue Masjid), according to the Bellevue Fire Department. Firefighters arrived to 40-foot flames engulfing the building.

Authorities found a 37-year-old man lying face down behind the mosque and arrested him. Police said Saturday evening that the man is homeless.

Court records show that he has had run-ins for years with police. In June, he told a Seattle police officer that he was schizophrenic and that he wanted to go to jail. When the officer asked why he wanted to go to jail, the man responded that he wanted to be safe from the many people trying to kill him.  

KUOW does not name suspects unless they have been charged.

On Saturday evening, members of the Bellevue mosque urged compassion and said people should not jump to conclusions that a hate crime had been committed. 

“We should really look at the facts here,” said Tanvir Rahman, a member of the Islamic Center. “This individual had incidents with the mosque before and we know a little bit that he was mentally not stable, so we don't want to take the incident outside from what really it is.”

But Bellevue Chief of Police Steve Mylett said they would not tolerate this kind of act — especially at a house of worship. 

“People go to these places seeking consolation and guidance and connection with the almighty," he said. "When something like this happens it sends a shockwave through all religions in all communities, and it should.”

As the fire died down on Saturday morning, the fire department combed the wreckage to salvage holy books. Throughout the day, churches in the area flooded the mosque's phone line, offering space for worship.  

And on social media, people poured their hearts out, fearing that the mosque had been targeted. 

Muhamed Bakr told Q13 Fox: “We just heard from a couple of the parents: ‘What would happen if our children were there and this happened in the morning? Is it safe anymore?’”

Messages of solidarity with the mosque poured in on Saturday morning. On Facebook, Americans for Refugees & Immigrants wrote:

What we are witnessing are not isolated incidents, but rather a broader attack on the civil liberties of the people of this great nation. A fringe but large enough group has decided that all of us must live in the repressive environment of the 1950s.
 

In Whitefish, Montana, Neo-Nazis are targeting the Jewish community, publishing names, addresses and even photographs of children of the Jewish community.

In Colorado Springs, a gunman shot and killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Last night, it was arson of the mosque in Bellevue.

A man named Osman Salahuddin wrote on Facebook that he grew up across the street from the mosque and attended it nearly every day throughout his childhood.

“I hope our community comes together to help rebuild — not only the structure, but the idea of safety for all of the Muslims in the area,” Salahuddin wrote. “Particularly with this being the third attack on the two mosques that I have been attending since I was born, I am at a loss for words on the sheer senselessness of some human beings.

“Now is the time for all of us collectively to come together and denounce hatred once and for all.”

The Bellevue mosque has been targeted before.

A rock was thrown through a window in October; worshippers believed they were hearing gunshots.

Earlier this month, a man named Kamal Samater, who self-identifies as Muslim, was arrested after threatening members of the mosque, according to the Seattle Times. He was charged Friday with a hate crime.

But Ahmed Brown, a member of the mosque, said he believed the hate crime charge may be too much. Members of the mosque had met Samater on several occasions and found him to be unwell. 

“Clearly this is an individual who is mentally disturbed, mentally unsound,” Brown told KIRO.

“If a person who didn’t have psychiatric issues came into a place of worship and threatened bodily harm, that would be a different issue,” Brown said. “In this case, I think it’s just a testament to the low investment in mental health care in this state.”

Isolde Raftery can be reached at iraftery@kuow.org. Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.