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Groton police, FBI treating white powder incident at mosque as hate crime

September 21, 2018

Groton — Said Ali, who lives at the Islamic Center of New London on Fort Street, has a message for whoever sent the envelope he opened Friday morning, in which he discovered a note in crayon cursing the Prophet Muhammad, along with a powdery substance that quickly sparked a hate crime investigation.

“We breathe the same air,” said Ali, 43, a native of Egypt who has lived in the U.S. for about 20 years. “If I see anything wrong happening to you, I will not hesitate to run and help, not hesitate to do my best to save you or your family or someone you know.”

Ali, a member of the mosque, was exposed to the powder when opening mail in the Islamic Center’s upstairs study just before 9 a.m. Friday. Ali said he immediately called city police and they responded within a few minutes, followed by City of Groton firefighters and the FBI. No one else was exposed and no one was injured, police said.

Groton detectives say authorities are treating the incident as a hate crime against the Islamic Center’s worshippers.

Ali said the mosque has never received such a letter but he acknowledged hate crimes and hate speech have been on the rise. He said he sometimes hears people saying to members of the Muslim community, ”‘screw you’ ... but I’m not going to call the cops over that.”

“But this is when it becomes really serious, and that’s when we have to take an action,” said Ali, who noted he is married with two children. “If anything happened to them, I would never forgive myself.”

Firefighters established an inner and outer perimeter to confine and isolate the area of exposure. Police temporarily closed Fort Street and asked neighbors to shelter in place; no one was evacuated. The mosque and Fort Street were reopened after approximately three hours, police said.

Technicians reviewed the powder at the scene and sent the substance to a state lab for analysis. Police say there was no immediate danger to surrounding residents.

The FBI joined the investigation Friday morning, and the Emergency Services Unit of the Connecticut State Police, a hazardous materials team from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Ledge Light Health District personnel assisted at the scene.

“I want to truly thank them for what they did,” Ali said. Authorities told him he would learn more about the investigation in the next several days, he said.

The case remains under investigation.

On Friday afternoon, police in Meriden said authorities responded to 500 S. Broad St., which houses multiple commercial businesses, to investigate a report of white powder found at The Money Source.

It was not clear if the two incidents are related. The Meriden police public information officer did not immediately respond to a message left with that department.

The Record-Journal reported that three employees were quarantined and the substance was determined to be inert. The incident remains under investigation.

b.kail@theday.com

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