A building at an Islamic Center in Houston, Texas, was burned to ground early Friday, local media reported. Authorities are reportedly investigating the incident as an act of arson.
The building at the Quba Islamic Institute caught fire around 5 am, media reports said, citing Houston fire officials. There were no injuries reported and the other buildings at the center remain fully operational.
Houston firefighters told The Bay Area Citizen that the aluminum-structured building was already mostly burned by the time they reached.
“Everything’s collapsed down. Right now, it’s so badly burned. We’re still trying to put out the hot spots, get some of the smoke out so we can see if we can get arson in there. There’s an air-conditioning unit on top that we have to be careful it doesn’t collapse on us. We haven’t really been able to get in there,” Houston Fire Department spokesperson Ken Tyner reportedly said.
Investigators have warned leaders at another Islamic center in the area that the incident was an act of arson and urged them to be on alert, ABC affiliate KTRK reported.
"I hope it's not a hate crime," Ahsan Zahid, one of the imam's son's, told the Houston Chronicle. "Preliminary results say it's arson."
Fire officials told KTRK that accelerant was found at the scene, and that authorities are probing the possibility of a hate crime. KTRK also reported that a man had driven by the center on Thursday shouting “mocking phrases” and a masked man had to be removed from the premises earlier in the week.
A Houston fire official told Reuters that it could be several days before authorities could say with certainty what happened at the time of the incident. He added that there has been no official confirmation of the arson theory.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) called on state and federal authorities to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime. "Given the unprecedented level of anti-Muslim rhetoric in our society, it would only be prudent to investigate a possible bias motive for this apparent arson attack," CAIR spokesperson Ruth Nasrullah said Friday afternoon, the Houston Chronicle reported.
Officials with the center reportedly said the damages will cost around $100,000.