$10,000 reward offered in North County mosque arson case

ESCONDIDO, Calif. -- Escondido police and federal officials announced Thursday they are offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever set an arson fire that damaged a North County mosque last month.

“We cannot do this alone and we believe that someone has information that would be valuable to our case," said Escondido Police Department Captain Edward Varso. “Escondido is a community that will not tolerate crimes against its places of worship and peace.”

Investigators from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have also stepped in to help.

The fire was reported around 3 a.m. on Sunday, March 24, at the Islamic Center of Escondido on West Sixth Avenue near South Escondido Boulevard. Seven people were inside the building when they noticed that fire was burning on the outside wall of the building. They were able to extinguish the fire with a fire extinguisher.

The mosque had security cameras up during the arson, but they were not working, investigators said. They have not identified any suspects in the case and don't know if the fire was set by an individual or more than one person.

“That’s very concerning because of course we want to end this," Yusef Miller, a member of Escondido's Islamic community, told FOX 5. "We’re not afraid to worship but we are heightened in awareness. People still go to the mosque. There was a small drop in attendance but people picked right back up."

Miller said, since the arson, security measures have improved at the Islamic Center, including added patrols from the Escondido Police Department.

Graffiti left on the scorched building made reference to last month's deadly terror attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Escondido police Lt. Chris Lick said.

Arson against a house of worship is a federal offense, according to FBI agent Suzanne Turner.

“This is very important to us," Turner said. "That our individuals feel safe at any place of worship that they are at. We’re asking the community to help us do that.”

“It could happen anywhere whether it’s a church or a synagogue or a school or a place of work," Miller said. "We all need to look out for each other. We’re one people and it’s time that we act like it.”

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the FBI at 800-225-5324.

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