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Islamic Center Fire in Ga. Called Arson

August 26, 2003

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) _ A weekend blaze that destroyed the Islamic Center of Savannah was arson, fire investigators said.

FBI agents are investigating the fire as a civil rights violation, said Special Agent Steve Crum.

``We do feel it is a hate crime,″ said Saad Hammid, a board member of the center. ``This will continue until those criminals are put behind bars.″

No one was injured in the blaze early Sunday but a rare, handwritten copy of the Quran was destroyed. Evidence of possible accelerants and other clues point to arson, assistant fire chief Stephen Miller said.

``My investigators have determined that this was an intentionally set fire, and we are therefore calling it an arson,″ Miller said Tuesday.

The 100 families that had been worshipping at the mosque _ housed in a two-bedroom house _ now say they will worship in a tent erected at the site.

``The normal sense of fear and caution is there, but they are not so frightened that they will stop coming,″ Hammid said. ``More people are determined to be even more public about their faith.″

Center members said two other anti-Muslim incidents happened earlier this month. Five bullet holes were found in the center’s garage door Aug. 3.

On Aug. 18, the apartment of a student who worships regularly at the center was burglarized and center members said the burglar left behind a note demanding that Muslims leave the city.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigations crime lab, Savannah police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are also involved in the investigation.

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