Oregon: Religious leaders hold vigil for burned mosque

Islamic center targeted in apparent hate crime after a teen who occasionally worshiped there was accused of planning terror attack.

December 1, 2010 11:08
1 minute read.
Oregon residents light candles for burned mosque

Mosque Vigil Oregon 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

CORVALLIS, Oregon — Steady rain Tuesday did not stop people from attending a candlelight vigil in support of an Islamic center targeted by an apparent hate crime after a teen who occasionally worshiped there was accused of planning mass killings in Portland.

Hundreds of residents of this small college town came out for the vigil at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center.

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Elizabeth Oettinger, senior minister of the First Congregational Church United Church of Christ, said a number of religious leaders organized the event to show support for the Muslim community after the center's office was set on fire Sunday.

Authorities have said the blaze was the result of arson and they are investigating whether it was a hate crime, set because Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, sometimes worshipped at the center. Mohamud was arrested Friday in an FBI sting on charges he tried to set off a car bomb at a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, authorities said.

He has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction.

Oettinger said residents lit candles at the charred mosque to show their support for its members.

"We wanted to surround it in fire and light in solidarity and friendship," she said.

Corvallis police Capt. Jonathan Sassaman told The Associated Press the fire was apparently started by someone who broke an office window and threw in a container of flammable liquid. He said evidence has been shipped to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, in hopes of finding fingerprints and DNA, and of identifying the type of liquid used.

Rabbi Benjamin Barnett noted the vigil outside the mosque came one day before the start of the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

"Truly this is a festival of lights right now," he said. "The Muslim community — Muslim brothers and sisters standing here now outside your holy place — have been dealt a blow of darkness. The question is, what's the light in response? And I think I'm looking at it right now."

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