The FBI and police in Southern California opened a hate-crime investigation into the vandalism of two mosques in Hawthorne, California. Worshippers arrived at Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque early on Sunday and found “Jesus” written on the fence, along with other religious graffiti on an outside wall. Then they spotted what looked like a hand grenade in the driveway, but police determined it was “a plastic replica,” according to a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A short time later, the words “Jesus is the way” were found spray-painted on the Islamic Center of Hawthorne.
“All evidence will be reviewed by state and federal prosecutors to determine whether a violation under federal civil rights statutes occurred,” the FBI said in a statement on Sunday evening. Hawthorne is located about 75 miles west of San Bernardino, where a couple inspired by Islamic extremists killed 14 people earlier this month.
On Friday, a fire was set at another mosque near the site of the shooting, the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, in Coachella. A handful of people were inside as firefighters arrived on the scene and quickly put out the fire in the lobby. No one was injured, but there was smoke damage throughout the building. Carl Dial, 23, was arrested that night and charged with five felonies, including commission of a hate crime, arson, maliciously setting a fire, and second-degree burglary, the L.A. Times reports.
“It’s horribly lamentable that we would paint any group as undesirables based on the actions of an extremely small number of radical folks that don’t represent the religion in any way,” Riverside county supervisor John Benoit said after visiting the mosque. “If in fact it was done with the mosque as a target … it’s reprehensible, and the people who perpetrated that act should be treated the way we would any other terrorist.”
There have been a rash of apparent anti-Muslim crimes across the country following the San Bernardino shooting and the Paris terrorist attack, and even non-Muslims have mistakenly been targeted. Earlier last week a Sikh temple was vandalized in Buena Park, California. “The graffiti had gang codes and a racial slur and profanity in reference to ISIS and Islam, which was misspelled,” said Jaspreet Singh, a temple board member.
Council on American-Islamic Relations spokesperson Ibrahim Hooper said Islamophobic rhetoric from some on the right is making things even more difficult for Muslims in America. “Right after 9/11, anti-Muslim hate was on the fringes of society, and now it has been brought right into the mainstream,” he said. “It’s almost acceptable now to hate Islam and Muslims, and now we see the results.”