Missouri mosque destroyed by mysterious fire gets donations

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 16, 2012 7:13 PM
Missouri mosque destroyed by mysterious fire gets donations

By Kevin Murphy

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - Donations from around the world have helped Muslims in Joplin, Missouri, raise about $375,000 to rebuild a mosque destroyed in a fire that members of the local Muslim community suspect was a hate crime, mosque officials said on Thursday.

Fire officials have not been able to determine what started the pre-dawn blaze at the Islamic Center of Joplin on August 6. No one was hurt.

The same mosque had a minor roof fire on July 4, raising the suspicions within the Muslim community that both were hate crimes. "We do think it is very suspicious," said Kimberly Kester, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Joplin.

Thousands of people from at least 23 countries sent donations to rebuild the mosque, said Kester.

A Muslim community website said at least $375,000 was donated, far exceeding the $250,000 goal. Kester said the extra money will be used for safety features and a playground.

Many donations also came from non-Muslims, she said. "Non-Muslims just want to help. They realized that what happened is wrong," Kester said.

The Joplin mosque fire occurred the morning after six worshipers were shot dead at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee. The Wisconsin gunman, a white supremacist, killed himself. Authorities do not know the shooter's motive, but members of the church and the police speculated he thought Sikhs were Muslim, which they are not.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, by Islamist militants, Sikhs have sometimes been confused publicly with Muslims because of their turban headdress and beards.

The Joplin mosque, the only Muslim house of worship within a 50-mile (80-km) radius, had been used as a headquarters last year for Muslim relief workers who came from around the country to help rebuild the city after it was hit by a massive tornado, which killed 161 people.

The FBI circulated an enhanced photo on Thursday of an unidentified man who is a suspect in the July 4 fire.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski, Greg McCune and Philip Barbara)