(Reuters) – Police are investigating a fire at a Southern California mosque on Sunday as a possible arson and hate crime after fresh graffiti on the driveway mentioned the mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand, local media reported.
Police and firefighters were called to the Islamic Center of Escondido, north of San Diego, about 3:15 a.m. (1015 GMT) on Sunday about a fire that blackened an outside wall, the San Diego Tribune and other media reported.
Congregants at the center smelled smoke, spotted the fire and put it out before it caused serious damage, before firefighters arrived, media reported.
No one was injured.
But on the mosque’s driveway, police found fresh graffiti that referenced the March 15 shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 people dead and others seriously injured from a gunman who published a hate-filled manifesto on social media, police told the press.
The exact words in the graffiti message were not released by police.
Morning prayers at the mosque were canceled as law enforcement investigated the scene.
Escondido Police Lieutenant Chris Lick told the Tribune and other media that it appeared that a chemical accelerant was used to set the fire.
No suspects were reported.
Along with local police and fire officials, agents with the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the case as both an arson and a hate crime, media reported.
Yusef Miller, a spokesman for the Islamic community in Escondido told the Tribune that people at mosques across the region need to remain vigilant.
“Everyone is on edge,” he told the paper. “”When they connected it to New Zealand, it gave us more of a mortal fear that something outlandish might happen.”
Neither law enforcement officials nor Islamic community leaders could immediately be reached early on Monday.
Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by Christian Schmollinger
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