Police investigating possible arson, graffiti referencing New Zealand attacks at California mosque

Police in California are investigating a fire that damaged a San Diego-area mosque where graffiti was found referencing the New Zealand mosque attacks as a possible arson and hate crime.

Early Sunday morning, authorities responded to a 911 call to Dar-ul-Arqam mosque in Escondido, according to The Washington Post. There were seven people inside the mosque at the time, who extinguished the flames with a fire extinguisher. None were injured.

Police said they also found graffiti at the scene that “made reference to the shooting incident in New Zealand.” 

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The incident comes just over a week after a gunman opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring dozens of others. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been praised for her swift action following the attack to ban semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles in the country, and for her calls to not mention the alleged shooter’s name or share his manifesto.

Yusef Miller, a board member at Escondido’s Islamic Society of North County who works on interfaith initiatives, told the Post that the attack was “a clear homage to what happened in New Zealand.”

Police have reportedly not released information about the graffiti’s exact message out of concern that it could affect the ongoing investigation, which also involves the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Miller told the Post that he and other Muslim leaders have not been given additional information about the message.

“I gather that it referred to New Zealand and to the shooter specifically,” he said.

The Escondido area’s Muslim community gathered Sunday for an interfaith prayer vigil after the fire, their second such vigil in two weeks.

“I never could have expected that this would happen here, two blocks from my house,” Miller told the Post. “The connection was chilling.”