Officials are investigating a fire at a New Haven mosque that was under construction on Sunday afternoon and said it appears the fire was intentionally set.
Multiple crews were dispatched to a working fire at the Diyanet Mosque on Middletown Avenue around 4 p.m. Sunday.
Firefighters at the scene said the fire on the first floor extended to the second. Crews were able to get the fire under control within an hour, however there is considerable damage to the first and second floors.
For hours, members of the Muslim community stopped by and huddled under umbrellas in the cold rain to check out the damage to the mosque.
“I feel shocked and sorry. We were planning to come and have dinner tonight over here," said Telat Bozan, of West Haven.
Bozan said he was stunned after the fire broke out in an area that was under construction.
“Everyone was hoping when it was being finished, want to see how it looked, excited. It was very nice for the community," said Bozan.
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The timing of the fire made it even more unfortunate. Right now, Muslims are in the midst of Ramadan, which they consider their most holy month.
“Any time a fire like this happens, it affects an entire community not just families, but people of faith as well," said New Haven Fire Chief John Alston.
Alston said no one was hurt, including one man who was inside of the mosque at the time of the fire.
Now, investigators are trying to figure out what started the fire.
“To the community at large, and every other house of worship, we are taking this very serious. We are working with or federal and state partners to make sure there is not underlying issue to the greater community—to the greater religious community," said interim New Haven Police Chief Otoniel Reyes.
Authorities noted a $2,500 reward offered for information in the case. The Connecticut Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is also offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the case.
“Because it’s a house of worship and what’s going on in our nation right now, we want to make sure State Police are on the scene paralleling, paralleling their investigation with us,” Alston added.
ATF and the FBI were on scene with state and local authorities. Alston said an incident in a house of worship automatically triggers a federal response.
Firefighters and mosque staff were able to save some of the artifacts from inside of the mosque, but mosque members are left wondering what's next for their mosque.
“I hope they can save it, yes,” Bozan added.
Once it's safe, firefighters said they plan to take mosque members inside to see what they can salvage.
Worshippers said for now, they will have to find a new place to pray and for dinner during Ramadan.