MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is investigating an overnight fire at the construction site of the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.
Around 1:30 a.m. Saturday, the Rutherford County's Sheriff's Office got a call about a fire at the site located off Veals Road at Bradyville Pike.
One large construction vehicle was badly damaged, according to investigators, and others were doused with an accelerant, but were not set on fire. A passerby may have scared the suspect or suspects away.
"It is absolutely heartbreaking," Islamic Center of Murfreesboro spokeswoman Camie Ayash told News 2. "This has absolutely set fear through out our community."
The new Islamic worship center has been at the center of controversy in Murfreesboro for months.
Twice, vandals targeted have signs at the construction site and Ayash said the center has received harassing phone calls and emails.
She said the arson has left mosque members wondering what is next.
"The older members of the congregation were very affected by this," Ayash said. "We had a man say this morning God forbid someone come and try to attack me."
ATF agents have not labeled the overnight fire as a hate crime yet but said it is possible, depending on the evidence they collect during the investigation.
ATF agent Eric King said the public is already calling tips about the fire.
Murfreesboro resident and attorney John Green stopped at the site as he rode by on his motorcycle Saturday.
He offered his legal service to members of the Islamic center for free and said other Tennessee lawyers have done the same.
"It's humiliating," Green said. "I grew up in the public schools here. My daughter grew up in the schools here. This is absolutely unacceptable."
Ayash said the mosque will increase security at the construction site and Rutherford County sheriff's deputies have already increased their patrols of the area.
In the meantime, Ayash said some members have stopped coming to the current center out of fear of violence.
"We are not the ones that are the radicals here," she said. "We are the ones who are the victims in all of these incidents."
Members of the Islamic center say despite their fears, they will not stop construction on the new worship center and construction workers plan to be back at work on Tuesday.
The ATF asks anyone with information about the fire to call 1-888-ATF-FIRE or 1-888-289-9473.
Middle Tennesseans for Religious Freedom have scheduled a vigil in response to the fire. It is set for Monday at 7 p.m. in front of the Rutherford County Courthouse.