Fire at Southern California mosque; cause being investigated

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A Southern California mosque was damaged Friday in a fire reported to authorities as a possible arson.

Flames were reported just after noon at the Islamic Center of Palm Springs, according to the Riverside County Fire Department. The fire was contained to the small building's front lobby, and no one was injured. Its cause is under investigation.

People there described hearing a "loud boom" and seeing flames, said Reymundo Nour, the mosque's acting imam, who was not on the site at the time. He said the mosque had been "firebombed."

A spokesman for the Riverside County Sheriff's Department declined to state whether the fire was being investigated as an arson or whether the mosque had been firebombed.

The FBI was assisting local law enforcement in determining the cause, agency spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also plans to help in the investigation.

The mosque is about 75 miles from San Bernardino, where last week a couple who federal officials say were inspired by Islamist extremists killed 14 people. Some Muslims in Southern California and beyond have worried about the potential for reprisals, while leaders of various faiths have called for tolerance.

In a statement released Friday evening, California Rep. Raul Ruiz, whose district includes the area in which the mosque is located, called on authorities to investigate the blaze as a possible hate crime.

"Our faith in humanity will not be intimidated," he said. "And we stand together against any form (of) violence towards the innocent."

County and city officials also condemned the attack, calling it an apparent case of arson, though none gave any details about how the fire might have been set.

"We see this as a cowardly act of vandalism that we not tolerate in our community," Coachella Mayor Steven Hernandez said.

The mosque was hit by gunfire in November 2014 in what authorities investigated as a possible hate crime. No one was injured in the early morning incident. The case remains under investigation, and no arrests have been made.