Originally created 05/06/04

Muslims can rebuild mosque



SAVANNAH, Ga. - A coastal Georgia Islamic group whose mosque was destroyed by arson last year recently won approval from Chatham County planners to build a new worship center.

Plans show it will be 10,550 square feet, with seating for 300. In the future, a classroom will be added. The mosque could cost more than $1 million, but that's not the key part, said Dr. Mohammad Masroor, the president of the center.

"They can come to pray. That is what is more important," he said. "Why build a structure when people can't come to pray?"

Members are still raising money, and movement toward a brand new mosque is steady.

But the investigation into the former mosque's arson doesn't seem to be as steady. The fire destroyed the two-bedroom house that was formerly used as a mosque.

The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, with help from the Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Police Department, still are investigating the blaze.

Savannah fire inspectors ruled the Aug. 24 blaze as arson a day later. The federal agencies were then called in to see if the evidence supported arson and if the motivation was hatred.

The FBI lists the case as pending, said Bill Kirkconnell, the supervisory senior resident agent at the FBI in Savannah. He would not say whether there were any suspects.

But mosque members say five bullet holes were found in the garage door of the center Aug. 3. And the apartment of a student who worships regularly at the center was burglarized Aug. 18.

The burglar allegedly left a note demanding that Muslims leave Savannah and that they are being watched "24-7." The student lives near the Islamic Center. Both incidents were reported to Savannah police and the FBI.

Investigators have kept members of the center informed about the case.

"The authorities have not been able to find out who (started the fire)," member Masood Ahmed said. "There is no reason for me to think any other way than they tried their best to find out who did that."