New Haven fire and police officials say a two-alarm fire at the Diyanet Mosque on Middletown Avenue on Sunday was intentionally set.
"Anytime there’s an event like this or an incident in a house of worship anywhere in the U.S. it triggers a response of both the ATF, the FBI and state and local authorities," said John Alston, the city's fire chief. "We are going to continue the investigation as it moves from now a fire emergency to a criminal investigation."
No one was injured during the fire. Alston said the damage to the mosque was severe enough that the building is currently uninhabitable. He did not say what leads investigators to believe the fire was arson, but New Haven mayor Toni Harp told Connecticut Public Radio Tuesday morning that an incendiary device had been found at the scene.
"If the investigation proves that to be correct New Haven will bring all of its departments to bear to bring these people in and make sure that they’re accountable," she said. "Hate has no place in New Haven."
Investigators are asking the public for help and offering a $2,500 reward for information.
The largely Turkish-American congregation of the mosque numbers about 300. The structure, which has been on the site for some 10 years had been undergoing construction. It appears the fire was set near the entrance.
The blaze comes during the holy month of Ramadan. The Muslim Coalition of Connecticut has begun a fundraising campaign to help with the restoration of the building.
"We call on all people to stand together to oppose hatred and violence against any group of people," the group said in a statement Monday evening. "The freedom to worship in a mosque, church, synagogue, or temple must be protected from fear, intimidation, and violent acts. All of us have a stake in this, no matter the faith tradition."
In the wake of the fire, Connecticut Muslims are on edge, according to Reza Mansoor, the President of the of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford. He said especially during Ramadan, the mosque is supposed to be a place of peace, but incidents like this make it feel like "a war zone" for many Muslims.
"This is a month of spiritual connection with God, if you will," said Mansoor. "And so, when you hear of an egregious act like this happening in a mosque at this time in particular it is just very unnerving."
Mansoor believes violent incidents are on the rise worldwide in part because of persistent misconceptions about Islam.
"News channels will keep talking about concepts in Islam and inviting some hate group to come and talk about these concepts," he said. "Why not invite a practicing Muslim to talk and explain these concepts?"
Mansoor said the silver lining in this incident is the outpouring of support and donations coming in to help rebuild the Diyanet Mosque.
This story has been updated.