New Haven fire officials are treating a blaze that swept through a Connecticut mosque on Sunday afternoon as a potential arson.
New Haven Fire Chief John Alston told The Associated Press on Monday that his team found evidence that the fire at the Diyanet Mosque was “intentionally set.” An investigation into the blaze is ongoing.
One person was inside the building when the flames broke out but escaped unharmed, Alston said.
“Any time a fire like this happens, it affects an entire community, not just families, but people of faith as well,” Alston told NBC Connecticut.
The fire began on the first floor of the building then spread to the second floor, according to NBC Connecticut. Both floors reportedly sustained significant damage.
The congregation was heartbroken to learn about the fire after spending over five years raising funds to build the mosque, WTNH reported. The fire occurred during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and reflection for Muslims around the world.
“Everyone was hoping when it was being finished, want to see how it looked, excited. It was very nice for the community,” a congregant, Telat Bozan, told NBC Connecticut.
The front of the mosque is still under construction, but other areas are being used for worship, the AP reports.
The mosque’s president, Haydar Elevli, told the New Haven Register that local churches had offered to host his congregation while the building is being repaired.
“It’s sad — that’s all I can say,” Elevli told the Register.
Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont pledged to hold those behind the blaze responsible.
“A hate-fueled attack on a religious institution – any religion – is disgusting and appalling. There is no place for it in our state or our nation,” he tweeted on Monday.
New Haven officials are offering a reward of $2,500 for information leading to an arrest in the case. The Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering an additional $10,000.
CAIR-CT’s executive director, Tark Aouadi, urged authorities to investigate whether the alleged arson was motivated by bias.
“Given recent attacks on houses of worship in this country and around the world, it is incumbent on law enforcement authorities to investigate the possibility of a bias motive for this arson,” said Aouadi said in a press release.