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Person of interest sought in Islamic Center of Tacoma arson

Photo of Islamic Center of Tacoma with a sign that says "Temporarily Closed Please Do Not Enter."
Mayowa Aina
/
KNKX
The Islamic Center of Tacoma is unusable because of extensive water, smoke and fire damage from an intentionally set fire on Oct. 11.

The Pierce County Sheriff's Department has released photos of a person they want to talk to in connection to the fire at the Islamic Center of Tacoma on Oct. 11.

The fire happened just before evening prayers were about to start. And a week later, the community is still shaken, said center assistant director Alaa Alshaibani.

“We are used to hearing stories like this elsewhere, but the fact that it happened here in Tacoma, in a community that we've been in for a long time, decades, just really took us by surprise,” she explained.

It’s unclear whether the fire was a targeted attack, but it is being investigated as arson.

“A lot of the youth and women are frightened by what happened, especially because as women, most of us are pretty visibly Muslim,” Alshaibani said. “So if this was, in fact, targeted due to our faith, due to our identity, then we stand out more.”

No one was injured in the fire, but the building has been rendered unusable due to extensive water, smoke and fire damage.

It’s been a disappointing time for Shayma Al-dobashi, 10, who is a member of the center. Right now she doesn’t have anywhere to practice Arabic or learn about her religion, she said.

“It's actually very sad because this is our local mosque, and it's the only one that's close to us.”

Currently, members are praying in nearby churches. But the center is searching for a more long-term solution while the building is being rebuilt.

Local leaders and other officials, including Gov. Jay Inslee, visited the center Tuesday, denouncing the fire.

Alshaibani, 27, said she isn’t ready to call the incident a hate crime yet, but hopes it’s an opportunity for people to come together and educate themselves.

“We are your neighbors. I was born and raised here, I'm from here,” Alshaibani said. “I would love a chance to chat with anybody who has any questions. We can get together and be together, not just due to sad circumstances. We can come together in celebration.”

A fundraiser for the center has raised more than $290,000 toward rebuilding.

The photo shows the Islamic Center of Tacoma in the background, with a sign on the street that says "Peace Be Upon You."
Mayowa Aina
The Islamic Center of Tacoma is tucked off Bridgeport Way. A sign on the street welcomes visitors with "Peace be upon you." An Oct. 11 fire at the mosque is being investigated as arson.

Updated: October 20, 2021 at 6:09 PM PDT
Headline recast to clarify that authorities have a person of interest they'd like to speak with.