Fire started at former Fort Pierce mosque of Orlando nightclub gunman

Surveillance video captures man near building before fire starts

FORT PIERCE, Fla. – Authorities said a fire that broke out overnight Monday at the Fort Pierce mosque that the Orlando nightclub gunman Omar Mateen had attended was deliberately set.

"It is with a very heavy heart that we have to announce that last night around midnight, there was an arson attack on our Mosque," the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce posted on social media. "We urge those of you coming for Eid Prayer to please go to the other Masjid on US-1, Address: 4000 US-1, Fort Pierce, FL 34982. Please keep us in your Du'as and prayers."

According to the St. Lucie Sheriff's Office, surveillance video shows a man park his motorcycle and approach the east side of the mosque on West Midway Road in White City just moments before a flash of fire is seen.

"As the individual was approaching the building, he was holding a bottle of some sort of fluid and what appeared to be some papers, or something like that," Maj. David Thompson said. "Shortly after the individual approached the building an immediate, very large flash was observed in the video footage. The male was then seen leaving the mosque in a hurry."

"A fire at any place of worship is alarming, regardless of the circumstances," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

People who live in the area told Local 10 News reporter Erica Rakow that they saw flames shooting through the roof of the building.

"We're running down the stairs and you open the door, and you just feel the heat, like it was so hot," Jennifer Parsons said.

Two people called 911 to report the fire.

According to the mosque's website, the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce is the oldest mosque in the Treasure Coast area.

The building has served the Muslim community by providing a "wide range of services, activates, programs and classes," the website stated.

Mateen had attended the Fort Pierce Islamic Center since 2003, Imam Syed Shafeeq Rahman told CNN earlier this year. Rahman said Mateen had usually come for Friday prayers before the rampage at the Orlando nightclub on June 12 that killed 49 people.

"People drive by honking, and cursing and flipping the bird to a building when people aren't even really there during the day, you know, and then you have to constantly deal with that. It's really sad," Parsons said.

The Islamic Center of Fort Pierce stated on its website that, "We strongly condemn all acts of terror and violence."

The St. Lucie Sheriff's Office is investigating the arson, with the assistance of the St. Lucie County Fire District, the Florida State Fire Marshall's Office, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

About the Authors: