Stockton mosque fire an arson, investigators say; $10,000 reward offered

Published: Thursday, May. 26, 2011 - 12:00 am | Page 4B

An early-morning fire that burned down a Stockton mosque last month was the work of an arsonist, fire investigators said Wednesday.

They announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the April 23 blaze that destroyed the Masjid Al Emaan Mosque at 4212 N. Pershing Ave. in central Stockton.

Also damaged were adjacent businesses – Reliance Real Estate Office and Living Well Ministries and Christian Center.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation with the Stockton Fire and Police departments. There were no injuries and the fire damage was estimated at $400,000, ATF spokeswoman Helen Dunkel said.

The ATF released footage from a video taken in the mosque of an image of a person wearing a bag over his or her head, entering just after 3 a.m.

"The entry was not forced," Dunkel said. "We are hoping somebody from the community can recognize the individual based on body shape and build."

A hate crime hasn't been ruled out, "but, thus far, there's no evidence that it's a hate crime," Dunkel said.

Basim Elkarra, director of the Sacramento chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, praised the agencies involved in the investigation and called for the public's help in finding the culprit.

"We're seeing a dangerous trend around the country – numerous mosques or sites where they're building mosques burned down or damaged," Elkara said.

Anyone having information about the fire should call the ATF hotline, (888) ATF-FIRE or (209) 244-6653. All callers can remain anonymous.

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