A criminal investigation is now underway after officials said Monday afternoon they believe the fire was intentionally set.
The fire broke out at the Diyanet Mosque on Middletown Avenue in New Haven on Sunday.
It’s currently the holy season of Ramadan.
“Because it’s a house of worship, and what’s going on in our nation right now, we want to make sure the state police is on scene paralleling this investigation,” said Chief John Alston, New Haven Fire Department.
On Monday he said in addition to New Haven and state police investigating, the FBI and ATF are also involved.
“Utilizing the resource of the state police and the investigators in the New Haven Fire Department, it was determined it was intentionally set,” Alston said.
Crews were called to the mosque Sunday around 4 p.m., where the second alarm fire had started on the first floor of the building and spread to the second level.
A man who called firefighters about it was inside the mosque at the time but was able to safely make it out.
As firefighters worked to save the mosque, a crowd of worshipers huddled in the rain in tears.
“Any time a fire like this happens, it affects an entire community, not just families, but people of faith as well,” Alston said. “And we appreciate the well wishes. We’ve also spoken to the imam who is on the scene and we’re going to provide as much assistance as we can.”
The fire caused significant damage.
The building was new and still under construction at the time. The original mosque is behind it and still used.
Now with the mosque off limits, they have to find a new place for their prayer services, as the incident shifts from a fire emergency to a criminal investigation.
“If you do know any information, however minimal you think it might be, please come forward with that information, it could absolutely be valuable to the investigation,” said New Haven Police Chief Tony Reyes.
Investigators also put posters up in the area for the arson tip line, not just looking for information from witnesses, but also offering $2,500 for info that leads to an arrest and conviction.
In addition to that, the CT chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of the person(s) responsible.
Gov. Ned Lamont stopped by the scene on Monday to offer his support. He said attacking someone for their beliefs is especially hateful.
“The one thing I find hopeful, because I heard from the Imam, is that other houses of worship, churches and synagogues have stepped forward and said, ‘we want to help.’ What I heard from the folks at the mosque is they welcome the help, but they want to worship right here and we’re going to do everything to make that possible,” Lamont said on Monday.’
Mosque leaders posted to their Facebook page “Alhamdulillah,” or “Praise be to God no one was hurt.”
“This is like the Muslim Christmas, if the Catholic church gets burned down on December 25th or Three Kings Day,” said Tark Aouadi, Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Ramadan is a month for family, fasting, charity, and goodwill, but members at they Diyanet Mosque said the exact opposite played out Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t like hearing ‘intentionally set.’ That set off hairs on the back of my neck,” Aouadi said.
A GoFundMe has been established to support the mosque, click here for more.