Alberta Police Are Still Looking for Man Who Set Mosque Fire

A man set an Alberta mosque on fire Saturday, just one day after Eid.

Surveillance footage, taken just after 11 PM on Saturday, shows the man walking up to the Edson Mosque with what looks to be a jerry can in hand. He walks just out of the frame and the fire starts. From here he makes his exit, leaving the flames licking the building for about 15 minutes. Edson, which has a population just over 8,000, is about 200 kilometres west of Edmonton.

“Cameras didn’t catch what happened at the back door but you could see the fire ignite and then see him walking along the side of the building and leaving the premises,” Edson Islamic Society board member Jocelyn Pettitt told VICE. “So we knew that it was an intentional act.”

“Whether or not it was an attack to hurt people we don’t know,” she added.

Pettitt said that the man started two fires—one at the side of the mosque and one at the back door. The fire was started while there were still worshippers—travellers from out of town who had just finished up their evening prayers—on the mosque’s property. These worshippers saw the fire almost immediately and contacted the fire department.

The worshippers’ presence makes the attack much more disconcerting to Pettitt.

“There was no way for that person to know if there were still people in the mosque,” she said. “They knew there was a vehicle still there and they knew there were worshippers still in the parking lot and they still did this. They lit the fire and walked away like nothing happened. It was scary how brazen it was and how they did it in front of people.”

When the fire department showed up they extinguished the flames. As the building was constructed from fireproof materials it didn’t sustain much damage but the fire left the door visibly burned. RCMP in Alberta are investigating the arson and have asked the public to give any information.

Pettitt said there were no threats or messages left at the scene and she doesn’t know why the person chose that particular night. The only thing that came to mind to Pettitt is that earlier in the day the community was celebrating Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, at another location.

The Muslim community in Edson is small—around 45 people—but it’s growing and therefore is rather young, Pettitt said. One of the most difficult things to come out of this incident has been explaining what happened to the children who attend the mosque—children who have spent their entire lives in Edson.

“For them to witness and experience this type of attack on our community is a first for them and it’s hard to explain to them what happened,” she said. “You just do your best and tell them that there are people out there who fear the unknown.”

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Support from politicians across the province, including Edson’s mayor, Premier Rachel Notley, and United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, has come pouring in. The Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council said they expect a full investigation by the RCMP.

“Given that people were praying evening prayers shortly before the fire was lit, we cannot help but remember the Quebec mosque shooting,” said Adil Hasan, Vice President of Civic Engagement, in a statement. The National Council of Canadian Muslims called the attack “cowardly.”

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