Arsonist torches Pulse nightclub killer's mosque
FORT PIERCE, Fla. (WPEC) -- An overnight fire heavily-damaged the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, a mosque once-attended by the Pulse nightclub killer and another American terrorist.
Mosque officials have previously said the facility has received threats following the deaths of dozens at the popular night club in Orlando.
Fire officials suspect the cause of the fire is arson. They believe one person is involved and expect to release video of the incident soon.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office said it's too early to tell whether it's a case of arson, but authorities are expected to provide more information at around 6:30 a.m. (ET) Monday.
The first crews on scene reported seeing flames shooting through the roof of the mosque on Midway Road. Authorities said no injuries were reported.
Mosque leaders said the center was expecting over 100 people to attend a special event planned for this morning before the fire damaged the building. They said the planned to move the event to an outside location.
Leaders also told WPEC in June they had been receiving threats. Some threatened to burn it down. Security was stepped up back then.
Omar Mateen, the man who federal authorities say killed dozens of people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, went to the mosque. He was killed by police in a shootout after the mass shooting in June.
Moner Mohammad Abu Salha, the American Taliban who became a suicide bomber in Syria, also went to the mosque.
The FBI twice investigated Mateen for terrorist ties, including connections to Abu Salha. The FBI said it determined the connection between Mateen and Abu Salha to be "minimal" and not a "substantive relationship or threat at that time."
Mateen lived in Fort Pierce and once worked for a security firm in Palm Beach Gardens. Just last week, the state of Florida fined G4S Secure Solutions $151,400 for falsely listing psychological testing information on forms that allowed employees to carry guns, according to The Associated Press. One of the forms belonged to Mateen.
The center plans to move the festival to another location.
The arson is under investigation with help from the St. Lucie County Fire District, the Florida State Fire Marshal's Office, the BATF and the FBI.
Early Monday, Maj. David Thompson of the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office declined to speculate on whether the Sunday anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks played a role in the fire.
Multiple agencies, including the State Fire Marshal's Office, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI, are investigating. Sheriff's officials said they will be releasing the video and asking for the public's help in identifying the person responsible for the fire.
It's not the first time the mosque has seen trouble since the Orlando attack.
A few weeks after the nightclub shooting, a man was beaten outside the mosque, according to Sheriff Ken J. Mascara. Early on July 2, deputies were called by a man who said someone was trying to burglarize a vehicle. Arriving deputies found a man bleeding from the mouth who told them he was approached by someone who "asked him what he was doing and then punched him several times in the face and head."
The man was stopped by deputies and arrested a short time later.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement that a man in a truck had stopped outside the mosque earlier that day and made slurs, including, "you Muslims need to get back to your country."
Mateen's father is among the roughly 100 members that attend the mosque.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.