Local mosque fire ruled arson

10/2/2012
BY TAYLOR DUNGJEN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
A photograph obtained through Security Video of a Person of Interest in the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo Fire.
A photograph obtained through Security Video of a Person of Interest in the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo Fire.

Officials on Monday ruled a fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo an arson, but remained tight-lipped about details.

At least four people did a walk-through of the Perrysburg Township mosque Monday afternoon, though when asked for a comment, Dr. Mahjabeen Islam declined. Police on scene also declined to comment on the investigation.

A Perrysburg Township police official said officers would likely be stationed outside the center 24 hours a day for several days.

Neither police nor the State Fire Marshal, also involved in the investigation, commented on a motive for the fire. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms is also investigating.

A former long-time center administrator, John Shousher, said he was told there was a report of smoke in the prayer area when the fire was reported about 5 p.m. Sunday. He was also told that there is considerable smoke and water damage inside the second-floor prayer room, partially, he added, from a sprinkler system.

Mr. Shousher was at the center at noon on Sunday and said everything seemed "normal." It would not be usual for someone to be at the center at 5 p.m. on a Sunday unless there were classes or someone was there to clean.

"I'm sorry about what happened," Mr. Shousher said. "It's my life, my place of God, and unfortunately something happened. If someone did it, it's a shame. If it was an accident there's nothing we can do about it but clean up and go on."

Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for the United Muslim Association of Toledo, said on Monday afternoon he was not aware that officials said the fire was intentionally set and could not comment specifically on the fire.

"I do want to say it's a very sad event," Dr. Hasan said. "The Islamic Center does represent hard work, blood, and sweat, and people for 30 plus years. It's very sad for our community, but we hope that, first of all, the right reasons will be found and we will express our sentiments based on those."

Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab could not be reached Monday by phone or email.

In July, 2008, a Toledo man who made threatening phone calls to the Islamic Center pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of telecommunications harassment, a misdemeanor.

Wendall Hollis, 40, of 2700 Pelham Rd. had been charged with making a terrorist threat, a felony, for placing the calls the previous December.

Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex sentenced Mr. Hollis to 180 days in the county jail but gave him credit for the 118 days he has served.

The judge suspended the remaining days for one year on the condition that Mr. Hollis, who said he planned to move out of the area, commits no similar offenses.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at:

tdungjen@theblade.com

or 419-724-6054.