Arson investigation begins after Orlando shooter's mosque set ablaze

The mosque where Omar Mateen was an occasional attendee suffered a fire late Sunday night. Authorities from multiple agencies are now investigating the possibility of an arson attack. 

St. Lucie Sheriff's Office/AP
In this photo provided by the St. Lucie Sheriff's Office, firefighters work at the scene of a fire at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce on Monday, in Fort Pierce, Fla.

The mosque attended by Omar Mateen, who fatally shot 49 people at an Orlando nightclub in June, was set ablaze in what may have been an arson attack, officials said Monday morning. 

Authorities were alerted to the fire at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce in the early hours of Monday morning, and a multitude of state and federal agencies are now investigating, after surveillance video emerged of someone approaching the building moments before a flash is seen and the flames begin.

Mr. Mateen was an occasional visitor at the mosque, including a visit to pray with his son two days before he opened fire at the Pulse nightclub, according to The Washington Post. Mateen was killed by police during the ensuing shootout. 

The Pulse shooting was the worst terror attack on US soil since Sept. 11, 2001. 

I don’t want to speculate on a motive,” Maj. David Thompson of St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office told reporters in a video posted to Facebook. “We all know the implications of the date and the time of year that this is – the 9/11 anniversary. Is that related? I would not want to speculate, but certainly that is in the back of our minds.”

The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office has requested assistance from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as local and state firefighters.

Ever since the attack at Pulse nightclub, which also wounded 53 people, the Orlando, Fla., area has been coming to terms with the events of that June night. Yet there have been remarkable examples of the community coming together in the aftermath, in defiance of the adage that the state is not “so much a community as a crowd” – particularly in Orlando itself, where roughly two-thirds of residents are originally from out of state. 

Not least among the financial gestures has been the actions of two local hospitals – Orlando Health, and Florida Hospital – in forgiving more than $5 million in medical expenses incurred by victims of the attack. And an online GoFundMe campaign to support the victims hit $1 million faster than any other campaign in the site’s history.

The possibility of arson may fuel worry about anti-Islamic rhetoric, however. "Unfortunately, within the past year, we've seen an unprecedented rise in bigotry in our society," Ibrahim Hooper, national spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told The Washington Post, noting an increase in attacks against Muslim Americans. 

"It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce the last night around midnight, there was an arson attack on our Mosque...Please keep us in your Du'as and prayers," the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce said in a post on Facebook on Monday morning. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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