Authorities say they are pursuing fresh leads in their investigation into an Aug. 7 incident in which two women hurled pieces of pig carcasses outside a San Bernardino County home where Muslims were praying inside.
The incident at the site of the proposed Al-Nur Islamic Center near Ontario is being investigated as a hate crime and vandalism of a place of worship, said Detective Joseph Parker of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "We believe the pig parts were thrown out to intimidate members so they don't build a mosque on the site," he said.
The Islamic center was founded in 2000 and usually meets at a temporary location in a Montclair office park. But during the holy month of Ramadan – when the alleged hate crime occurred – they were worshipping on some nights at the house that sits on the future site of a permanent mosque.
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors earlier this year approved the proposal for a 7,000-square-foot mosque on the property. Opponents of the mosque have filed a lawsuit seeking to block it. They say their suit is based on land use and other issues, not the religion of the worshippers, but mosque members say their Islamic faith is driving some of the opposition.
Rashid Ahmed, the mosque's chairman, said about 20 members of the congregation were gathered for a late-evening prayer when the carcass pieces were tossed onto the property. A security guard witnessed the incident, he said.
Ahmed said attendance at the mosque dropped by about 50 percent after that. "It created lots of fear and unnecessary headaches for people," he said. "There were a lot of people during Ramadan who did not show up for worship at the mosque."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the U.S. Department of Justice to launch its own hate-crime investigation. Fatima Dadabhoy, a civil-rights attorney with the council, said the Ontario incident was part of a national trend of harassment against mosques.