Police searching for arsonist suspected of setting fire to North County mosque

ESCONDIDO, Calif. -- Police Monday were searching for an arsonist suspected of starting a fire at an Escondido mosque and leaving graffiti referencing deadly attacks at two mosques in New Zealand.

The fire was reported around 3 a.m. Sunday at the Islamic Center of Escondido on West Sixth Avenue near South Escondido Boulevard, according to Escondido police.

Seven people were inside the building when they noticed a fire had broken out on the outer walls of the mosque, Lt. Chris Lick said. They were able to get the blaze out with a fire extinguisher and called 911.

No one was injured and the fire caused only minor damage to the outside of the building, Lick said.  He also said a liquid accelerator was used to set the blaze.  As the Worshipers vow to carry on, strangers are coming by to show solidarity, Lauren is from Vista, she dropped flowers at the front door: "I’m just providing some strength for them during this really difficult time with the events that just happened in New Zealand and it hitting so close to home."

No suspect descriptions have been released, but police are going through surveillance video.

The suspect entered the  property thru an unlocked gate, set the fire and left graffiti on the driveway making reference to the attacks that killed 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this month, Lick said.

Escondido police and fire investigators, the San Diego County Sheriff's Bomb/Arson Unit and agents with the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were investigating the incident as an arson and a hate crime.

Members of the public are encouraged to call Escondido police to report suspicious activity in the area of the mosque, Lick said.

A member of the Mosque talked with FOX 5 and said while he is now fearful, he will not let the incident stop him from prayer here, "there’s people who have hatred for Islam or Muslims and Islam is about peace."

Anyone with information about the fire was asked to call the police department at 760-839-4722 or the anonymous tip line at 760-743-8477.

A LaunchGood campaign is raising funds for repairs and security.

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