Arson investigation
Investigators on scene of a suspected arson fire at the Islamic Center of Escondido. Photo: OnSceneTV

Authorities announced a $10,000 reward Thursday for information leading to the arrest of whoever intentionally set an occupied Escondido mosque ablaze under cover of darkness last month.

“Today we are asking for the public’s help in solving this horrible hate crime,” Escondido Police Capt. Ed Varso said. “We cannot do this alone, and we believe that someone has information that will be valuable to our case.”

Dar-ul-Arqam Mosque, also known as Islamic Center of Escondido, was torched about 3:15 a.m. March 24. Seven people who were inside the West Sixth Avenue house of worship escaped without injury and were able to extinguish the blaze with a fire extinguisher prior to the arrival of emergency crews.

The fire was “quickly determined to be arson,” Varso said this afternoon during a news conference co-led by Suzanne Turner, acting special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Diego field office; and Ernesto Diaz, assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles Field Division of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Further evidence of the malicious intent of the crime was graffiti left on the building making reference to last month’s deadly terror attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Dozens of state, federal and local investigators, including personnel with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office, have worked to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators but so far have identified no suspects, Varso told news crews during the briefing at Escondido police headquarters.

While the case remains unsolved, police have sought to protect the mosque from any further harm or harassment, according to Varso.

“As we have been investigating the crime, we’ve also worked diligently to ensure that members of the mosque feel comfortable and safe at their place of worship,” he said. “We are currently working with the leadership of the mosque to improve the facility’s security. In addition, our officers … increased their presence at the mosque immediately following the fire and continue to provide extra patrols in the area.”

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call the FBI at (800) 225-5324. Tipsters may remain anonymous.

— City News Service

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.