A Southeast Missouri man was arrested this week on suspicion an arson fire that damaged a mosque at the start of Ramadan. Nicholas Proffitt is accused of starting the fire at the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau early Friday, the day most Muslims celebrated as the first day of Ramadan.
More than a dozen people, including several families who lived in the building that houses the mosque, had to be evacuated because of the blaze. No one was injured, but some tenants have been displaced by the fire.
“No one should have to suffer the devastating loss of their house of worship — particularly just as the holy month of Ramadan begins,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at the civil rights organization Muslim Advocates.
A fundraiser set up by mosque leaders said that the building has been declared a total loss and will require about $1 million in repairs. If convicted, Proffitt, who is being held without bond, could face a maximum of 37 years behind bars. He faces felony charges of burglary, arson and property damage, with a hate crime enhancement in the charges, according to law enforcement.
“The defendant was knowingly motivated to do so by reason of a motive related to the religion of the people who worship at the Islamic Center,” police said in a news release. Proffitt has been linked to several other mosque attacks in the past 15 years. A witness who helped authorities identify him said Proffitt has a history of making anti-Muslim comments.
Local interfaith leaders have reached out to show their support for members of the Islamic Center. At the nearby Christ Episcopal Church, the Rev. Edie Bird put up a sign saying, “We love our Muslim neighbors, they are wonderful.”
–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice