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Unbelievable': Joplin Mosque Burns to the Ground in Second Fire This Summer, Arson Suspected


“It's unbelievable...It’s a house of worship. It’s a place of God.”

(Photo: Firefighters maneuver debris following a fire at the Islamic Society of Joplin, Mo., Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in Joplin, Mo. (Photo: The Joplin Globe, T. Rob Brown / AP)

(The Blaze/AP) -- A mosque in southwest Missouri burned to the ground early Monday in the second fire to hit the Islamic center in little more than a month, officials said.

The fire at the Islamic Society of Joplin was reported about 3:30 a.m. Monday, the Jasper County Sheriff's Office said. The sheriff's department said the building was a total loss. No injuries were reported and no charges have been filed.

“The whole thing was on fire,” 15-year-old Omar Ahmed recalled. “As soon as we turned on 32nd Street and Black Cat Road, you could just see the pillars (of smoke).”

He added: “It's unbelievable...It’s a house of worship. It’s a place of God.”

Imam Lahmuddin, who leads the mosque and was in the building until late Sunday, said he was "sad and shocked" by the fire.

"I'm still in front of the building looking at the damage and nothing can be saved," Lahmuddin said in a telephone interview Monday. "But since we are people of faith we just can remember that this is a thing that happened because God let it happen, and we have to be patient, particularly in the month of Ramadan, control our emotions, our anger."

A blaze at the same building on July 4 caused minor damage and was determined to be arson. No arrests were made, though the FBI has offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to charges in that fire. The agency released video footage of what appeared to be a man starting the July blaze that did not cause extensive damage.

FBI spokeswoman Bridgett Patton said the agency is investigating the cause of the latest fire and whether or not it was also the result of arson.

“It was really burning when we got here,” Carl Junction Fire Chief Bill Dunn said. “The fire got inside and broke through the roof.”

Dunn noted that an accelerant may have been used.

Sharon Rhine, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, added that the center's security cameras were burned, bu the FBI will be attempting to recover footage.

About 50 families belong to the Islamic Society of Joplin, which opened in 2007 as a mosque and community center.  The FBI led an investigation in 2008 when the mosque's sign was torched, though that crime also remained unsolved.

Lahmuddin, who has lived in Joplin for about four years, said several people were at the center late Sunday and, despite the attacks, the center's members have good relationships with residents and other churches. He is mainly thankful that no one was inside the building, because he says members often sleep there during Ramadan.

The imam said it was troubling that the mosque was torched right after a Sikh Temple was attacked in Wisconsin, in terms of religious freedoms.

"I heard that yesterday, and this morning we see this happen in our place..." he said.

Lahmuddin concluded: "We are more fortunate that no one here got hurt in this incident."

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