MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Accelerants were used to start a fire last weekend at the construction site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, confirming that the fire was in fact arson, the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed in an afternoon press conference Friday.
A $20,000 reward is now being offered for information about the arson that leads to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible.
"Somebody knows something," Special Agent in Charge Keith Moses said. "The money is a motivator."
The FBI hopes someone who knows who is responsible for the arson will come forward with information.
Around 1:30a.m. on August 28, someone set fire to construction equipment parked at the site, located off Veals Road at Bradyville Pike.
For months, community members have been openly against building the Islamic center.
The sign marking the future site was vandalized twice this year, once in January and once in June, and the mosque has also received harassing phone calls and emails.
Friday, the mosque's imam, or leader, said the center has received a number of calls and emails from people voicing support for the center.
"I really want to say to everyone who stands with us, thank you very much," Ossama Bahloul said. "They are the majority."
Since the arson, mosque members have been scared to visit the construction site. On the center's Web site, members describe the arson as an act of terrorism.
"For those people really opposing this project, I want to open the door for them," Bahloul said. "We are willing to answer any of their questions."
Some in the community oppose the new Islamic center because it would create traffic problems in the area.
Others have implied that the mosque could be a haven for terrorists.
Rutherford County's sheriff could not say if a report of shots fired near the construction site Sunday was connected to the controversy surrounding the Islamic center.
Sheriff Robert Arnold vowed to find out.
"That's my job is to protect people's property and their rights," he said. "That's what I take an oath to do. That's what I am going to do."
For 30 years, the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has operated in a smaller facility in downtown Murfreesboro with no problems until now.