Overnight arson at Hamilton mosque, fire put out by Syrian refugees

An arson at the Ibrahim Jame Mosque on King Street East was stopped by Syrian refugees.The attack comes on the eve of the 15th anniversary of an arson attack on the Hindu Samaj Temple in the days after 9/11.

Police have made an arrest in attack, which comes 15 years after a 9/11 revenge arson on a Hindu temple

Hamilton mosque arson 1:09

An arson Wednesday night at the Ibrahim Jame Mosque on King Street East was stopped by Syrian refugees who put out the small fire and helped police catch a suspect.

The attack comes on the eve of 15th anniversary of an arson attack on Hamilton's Hindu Samaj Temple in the days after 9/11.

"Witnesses in the area indicated that (a) suspect who was seen lighting the fire had started to run away," said Steve Welton with the Hamilton Police. Some of the witnesses also followed a suspect and helped police find him, Welton said.

Even before the fire department could arrive, those witnesses — described by members of the mosque as newly arrived Syrian refugees —had put out the fire.

"Had it not been for their prompt response, the damages could have been worse," said Welton.

Sayed Hashemi, a volunteer at the mosque, told CBC news the people who worked to put out the fire and help police as Syrian refugees who live nearby.

Mohesin Al Mohammed lives across the road in the apartment building. He told the CBC he saw a man, dressed in black, attempt to set fire to the building around 11 p.m. He said the man took some trash from the curb side outside Al Mohammed's building and set it on fire outside the mosque's front door.

Three men stand outside the Ibrahim Jame Mosque on Thursday September 15, 2016 hours after, police say, a man was charged with arson after setting fire to the entrance of the mosque. (David Beatty/CBC)

Hamilton Fire said they received the call at 11:20 p.m. Wednesday night. Public information officer Claudio Mostacci said the fire was quickly extinguished and damage is minimal. He said the fire was mainly on the building's exterior.

Crews were finished and leaving the scene by 12:15 a.m., Mostacci said.

Islam is a religion of peace, love, and tolerance. And we will tolerate this.- Sayed Hashemi

Police have charged Hamilton man ​Keith Frederick with arson in connection with the crime.

Frederick's Facebook page includes several anti-Muslim posts, and posts that show anger or displeasure for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

One of the links shared on his page includes the headline, "Islam is a cult, not a religion — Angola bans Islam."

The link is posted with the phrase, "Angola has the right idea."

Keith Frederick, 34, has been charged with arson after a fire was set at a Hamilton mosque. (Facebook)

Hashemi told the CBC that the property damage may be minimal, but it's the emotional damage that counts.

"We never thought we'd be attacked," he said.

Hashemi said the mosque doesn't hear about a lot of Islamophobic experiences, but they do hear about some. And that's more than they used to hear about, "which was none," he said.

"Islam is a religion of love, peace, and tolerance. And we will tolerate this. We will not respond with violence."

Fifteen years ago, on September 15, 2001, the Hindu Samaj Temple on Twenty Road was burned down by three young men who thought it was a mosque. The attack on the temple took place four days after the 9/11 attacks. 

Three men were convicted in 2014 after pleading guilty to mischief.

"Given the backdrop of the location," said Steve Welton, a hate crime is "something we're certainly considering as a police service."

"We recognize the significance of the location," he said, and will be investigating the motive.

"We take this very seriously," Welton said, "Our goal is to prevent these things rather than reacting and responding to them."

On Thursday evening, Hamilton Police will be at the Hindu Samaj Temple to premiere a documentary about the community effort in the intervening years to make Hamilton a more inclusive city.

Late Wednesday night members of the public saw man set a fire at the entrance to the Ibrahim Jame Mosque, police say. (David Beatty/CBC)

dave.beatty@cbc.ca | @dbeatty

With files from Adam Carter