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Fire at California Mosque Was Intentionally Set in Possible Hate Crime: Sheriff

The mosque, which sustained smoke damage, is about 75 miles away from the site of the mass shooting in San Bernardino earlier this month.
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A fire sparked at a mosque in Southern California Friday was intentionally set in a possible hate crime, authorities determined.

"This was an intentional act potentially resulting in a hate crime," the Riverside County Sheriff's Department and Coachella Police Department said in a joint statement.

A person of interest has been identified and detained, the statement said. The suspect has not been identified.

The fire was reported just after noon local time (3 p.m. ET) at the Islamic Society of Coachella Valley in Coachella, the statement said.

The fire was extinguished within about an hour, and no one was injured, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

"Our congregation is, of course, apprehensive,'' said Reymundo Nour, president of Islamic Society. "We go to the mosque with our families. People are, of course, afraid for their families," he said, according to NBC affiliate KMIR.

The mosque, which sustained smoke damage, is about 75 miles away from the site of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2. Fourteen people died in the attack carried out by a husband and wife who authorities believe were radicalized, and the mass shooting is being investigated as an act of terrorism.

The FBI said they were joining local law enforcement in the investigation of the fire. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is also assisting.

"Anytime there is a concern that a house of worship may have been targeted, we would respond and have an investigative interest in cause and whether or not deliberate," an FBI spokesperson told NBC News.

U.S. Rep Raul Ruiz, a Democrat who represents Coachella Valley, said in a statement that he was "deeply concerned" about the "possible hate crime."

"I will continue to closely monitor the fire, the possible criminal investigation, and the safety of the members of the mosque," Ruiz said. "Our faith in humanity will not be intimidated and we stand together against any form violence towards the innocent."

In November 2014, six rounds were fired at the mosque, which has been at the Coachella Valley location for more than 15 years, according to NBC Southern California.