Three men have been arrested in connection with a fire that destroyed a mosque in the southern state of Tennessee, press reports said.
The suspects – aged 19, 23 and 32 – appeared in court Monday in connection with a fire that broke out early Saturday morning at the Islamic Center of Columbia.
An official from the mosque, Daoud Abudiab, told the Tennessean newspaper on Monday that he was grateful the men were behind bars.
"They have proven that they are a danger to our community," he said. "They do not need to be roaming the streets."
Mike Bottoms, district attorney general for Maury County, said that the three face state arson charges and that other charges are likely to be brought, the paper reported. An attack on a house of worship "is something we cannot tolerate," Bottoms said.
The attackers painted a swastika and the phrases "white power" and "we run the country" on the mosque's exterior.
Abudiab, president of the Islamic Center, told the daily the markings clearly pointed to a hate crime; "The writing on the wall says it all."
Over the next few days, leaders of the mosque, which has a congregation of about 20, will be meeting with an insurance adjuster and trying to decide whether they can rebuild the mosque at the same location, the paper said.
They also have to figure out how to dispose of burned Qurans and other religious materials left over from the fire.
"We want to make sure that they are burned completely," he said. "We don't want any fragments of them floating around the neighborhood and ending up in trash cans."
Meanwhile, a local church has offered its support, raising $1,000 for the mosque and offering up space for worship on Fridays at First Presbyterian Church, local TV station WKRN reported.
“This is what religion is all about," Abudiab said, adding that he has never even met anyone from the church. "It’s about compassion, and a message the individuals arrested missed completely."
In 1995, two African-American churches in Columbia were firebombed. And an official said there are hundreds of church fires in the U.S. each year.
According to 2000 census figures, 75 percent of the residents of Columbia were white, 20 percent African American and four percent Latino, with all other minorities accounting for less than one percent of the population.
Even if the mosque cannot be rebuilt on its current site, the congregation will continue to worship in Columbia, Abudiab told the Tennessean newspaper.
"What is that saying? Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" he said. "We are not dead. We are not going away."