FBI, ATF investigate fire at Islamic Center of Ypsilanti

No injuries reported after fire Saturday

By Jermont Terry - Reporter , Sierra Pedraja - Editor

PITTSFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. - Crews put out a fire Saturday afternoon at the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti in Pittsfield Township.

UPDATE: Teen accused of setting fire at Islamic Center of Ypsilanti; motive unclear

Police started to block streets on Michigan Avenue just after 5 p.m.

The center, which is also a mosque, went up in flames, the fire chief said.

"It just got intense very quickly. It rose in a matter of seconds (and) it went up," said Stephen Neckel, who spotted the fire.

Members of the center and mosque watched in disbelief. There was little they could do.

City officials said that even though the fire was under control within 20 minutes, the overhaul took another 60-90 minutes.

Matt Harshberger, director at the Department of Public Safety, said the building was unoccupied at the time of the fire.

"That was the first concern of mine," said Christian Shukait, who works nearby. "People come and go there here and there. I just hoped nobody was in there because that's the last thing we need on our hands."

Once the fire was out, fire investigators secured the scene. The FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were called in to help out as they dug through the debris for clues.

The FBI released this statement:

"The FBI is currently working with the Pittsfield Township Department of Public Safety and the ATF to determine the cause of fire that occurred at the Islamic Community Center. If in the course of investigation, information is developed suggesting a hate crime or another federal crime, logical investigation will be conducted to identify the individual(s) responsible and authorities will coordinate with the United States Attorney’s Office to identify the best course of action towards prosecution."

The public safety supervisor, Many Grewal, said it's because of the city's diverse nature that folks like the Islamic Center of Ypsilanti choose to locate themselves in Pittsfield.

"As such, our leadership and police will continue working toward providing for the safety and security of all," she said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also released a statement regarding the fire Sunday afternoon:

"We urge state and federal agencies to use their full resources to investigate this fire to determine a cause and, if it is determined to be arson, a possible motive," said CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid. "Anyone who has information about this fire, or saw anything suspicious at the time of the blaze, should immediately contact law enforcement authorities."

CAIR is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

Since the center was empty, the origin of the fire appears to be suspicious.

"From what I saw, it seems like it was rolling from the inside," Shukait said. "It seems like it was something that started inside at least."

But for now, investigators must figure out the exact cause.

The Pittsfield Township Fire Department and the FBI are investigating the cause of the fire.

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