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Arson Suspect Arrested in California Mosque Blaze

  • VOA News

A view of damage at the burned Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, Dec. 12, 2015.

A view of damage at the burned Islamic Society of Coachella Valley, Dec. 12, 2015.

Police have arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of setting fire to a mosque in Southern California, the same region where 14 people were killed by suspected Islamist extremists earlier this month.

The suspect, Carl Dial, was taken into custody late Friday and charged with five felonies, including arson, commission of a hate crime and maliciously setting a fire.

The blaze in the community of Coachella tore through the building's lobby just before a Friday prayer service. No injuries were reported, and authorities probing the attack had not disclosed the cause of the fire by late Saturday.

The Los Angeles Times said the same mosque was targeted last year with gunfire — an incident that was also investigated as a hate crime. No one was hurt.

Coachella is about 125 kilometers from San Bernardino, where a U.S.-born Muslim man and his Pakistani-born wife opened fire December 2 at regional government offices, killing 14 workers and wounding 22 others.

Both shooters were later killed by police, and federal investigators have since declared the massacre an act of terrorism by two supporters of Islamic State extremists.

Police departments across the country have been bracing for possible backlashes against Muslims following the San Bernardino attack.

The Washington, D.C., and Southern California offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a national Muslim advocacy group, were evacuated Thursday after both buildings received threatening letters containing a powdery substance. Police later determined the packages were not dangerous.

Earlier in the week, police launched an investigation in Philadelphia after a caretaker at a local mosque found a severed pig's head on the doorstep of that facility.