Alberta mosque set ablaze in 'brazen' arson

18 Jun 2018 | Canada
Alberta mosque set ablaze in 'brazen' arson

A mosque in Edson, Alta. was set on fire late Saturday night shortly after a small group of people left the building after evening prayers.

The three people who were praying inside had left the mosque and were still in the parking lot when a fire started at the building's south entrance at around 11 p.m. on June 16. 

Surveillance footage recorded by the mosque's security cameras captured the flames as well as a person in a dark hoodie leaving the property with what appears to be a red jerrycan shortly after 11 p.m.

The fire burned for nearly 15 minutes before firefighters arrived to extinguish it, said Tufik Baterdouk, vice president of the Islamic Society of Edson.

"It was quite brazen," Baterdouk said. "Typically you would think that someone who wants to commit arson or vandalism, if they see people ... they probably would change their mind. But this individual, it does not seem to be a concern for him.

"That makes it a little bit more scary to see the fact that the individual knows that there's people on the property, whether they're inside or not, and he still went ahead with it."

The fire left soot and scorch marks on the exterior of the building. The mosque was built five years ago using fire-resistant material.

Baterdouk, who has lived in Edson for 26 years, said he feels disappointed and shocked someone would act violently against his community. He called the fire an attack, and says it's the only one to have happened to the mosque since it opened in 2013.

The fire happened one day after Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, a holy month of fasting.

"Having grown up here, I would not have thought that something like this would happen in a good town like our town," Baterdouk said. 

"This is something that we will have to explain to our children ... that kind of weighs on your mind," he added. "Probably the hardest thing is having to try to explain to children why something like this could have happened."

Around 15 families visit the mosque regularly, he said. 

National outcry
The National Council of Canadian Muslims has condemned the fire as a "cowardly act of arson against a mosque."

"We are relieved no one was hurt in the attack and we stand in solidarity with the entire Edson mosque community at this difficult time," Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee is quoted as saying in a press release published Sunday.

 "A clear message needs to be sent that such vile actions that threaten communities will not go unpunished."

In a separate press release, the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council said it was appalled by the news.

"Given that people were praying evening prayers shortly before the fire was lit, we cannot help but remember the Quebec mosque shooting," Adil Hasan, Vice President of Civic Engagement, said in the release.

"While we are thankful that there were no injuries or loss of life, the Muslim community in Alberta is shaken and appalled by this arson attack. We expect a full investigation from the RCMP to bring the perpetrator of this heinous attack to justice. Finally, we call on the federal, provincial government to do more to counter Islamophobia and racism".

The mosque is working with RCMP to investigate the fire, said Edson Islamic Society board member Jocelyn Pettitt. 

The society is not treating the fire as a hate crime until police share more information, she said.

"Our doors are always open," Pettitt said. "If there is any concern or feelings of malice or confusion about our faith and our religion, come talk to us or any member of the Muslim community at the mosque. We have plenty of information and they're always willing to answer questions."

In a news release Sunday, RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Marlene Brown said the incident is suspicious and officers are investigating the fire as an arson. 

"The structure did not become fully engulfed and only minor damage occurred to the structure," Brown said in the statement.

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call Edson RCMP at 780-723-8800.

The town is about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.