Image: Mohamed Osman Mohamud
Abigail Marble  /  AP
This courtroom sketch shows terror suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud during an appearance in federal court Nov. 29 in Portland, Ore. Authorities say Mohamud and an FBI operative parked a van full of dummy explosives on Southwest Yamhill Street across from Pioneer Courthouse Square just after sundown Friday while thousands gathered in the square for the annual tree lighting. Mohamud is accused of attempting to detonate the explosives.
updated 11/30/2010 7:08:32 PM ET 2010-12-01T00:08:32

The fire at an Islamic center where the man accused of plotting a bombing in Portland sometimes worshipped appears to have been started by someone who broke an office window and tossed a container of flammable liquid inside, police said Tuesday.

Corvallis police Capt. Jonathan Sassaman told The Associated Press the window to the center's office was not broken enough for someone to enter, and the fire inside burned hot enough to melt many items.

Sassaman said evidence has been shipped to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., in hopes of finding fingerprints, DNA and identifying the type of flammable liquid that was used.

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"Certainly it spread in the room," Sassaman said of the liquid. "Lots of items were melted."

The Sunday fire burned about 80 percent of an office at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center, where Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, sometimes worshipped while he was a student at Oregon State University.

Outside the mosque, a pile of debris sat in the drizzle, included melted computer components and an overturned chair. Volunteers loaded the debris into a trailer to be hauled away.

"It's not a drive-by." Sassaman said of the fire, which came two days after Mohamud's arrest. "They broke a window, then tossed an accelerant inside."

Mohamud has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in an alleged plot to set off a car bomb last Friday in downtown Portland while thousands of people were gathered for the lighting of the Christmas Tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Sassaman said whoever set the fire would have had to drive around to the back of the building, then walk past the mosque entrance to the office window, which is not visible from the street.

"You'd have to know what you're doing," he said.

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Local contractor and real estate agent Michael Byers was among the many non-Muslims who offered their help and sympathy to the members of the mosque.

"When Timothy McVea bombed Oklahoma, nobody went and burned his church down," said Byers, who was helping the mosque buy replacement windows and other materials to rebuild the office.

Larry Pickard, a retired special needs teacher, brought a sympathy card and flowers, which he placed with a growing display on the ground near the green doors that are the main entrance to the mosque.

"I don't want other communities to think this kind of thing happens here," said Pickard. "No matter what religion you are, the core of all religions is peace and compassion ... whether you are Islamic or Christian. You shouldn't let one individual person reflect on the rest of us."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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