PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Authorities have connected a suspect who tried to set a North Portland mosque on fire with another vandalism at a place of worship days earlier, this time breaking windows at a Jewish synagogue on Portland’s Eastside.
When members of the Congregation Shir Tikvah returned to find a shattered window on Saturday, April 30, many figured it was random vandalism. It’s not the first time they’ve been hit, along with other businesses along that stretch of NE Sandy Blvd.
“Windows get broken. It’s not unusual,” said Rabbi Ariel Stone of Congregation Shir Tikvah. “Of course, you’re just thinking, oh it’s a window, it’s not that big a deal.”
But police were able to connect footage of the vandalism suspect to the same person captured on video at the Muslim Community Center, pouring a substance on the mosque and lighting it on fire.
“One of the things I feel has been made plain to all of us is that there’s very little difference between a mosque or a synagogue,” said Stone. “Marginalized communities are targeted.”
Mia Birk, co-founder and interim executive director of the Eastside Jewish Commons — which also shares the space on NE Sandy with the congregation — also responded to the new connection between suspects.
“We have created a beautiful place of joy, inclusion, and inspiration. We are saddened by the senseless acts of petty violence against any and all faiths,” Birk said.
The arson at the Muslim Community Center of Portland took place on Tuesday, May 3. Around 6:45 p.m. surveillance cameras at the building captured a man pouring a substance on the mosque, located at 5325 North Vancouver Ave., and then lighting the substance on fire, according to the Portland Police Bureau.
Police say only minor damage was done to the structure.
The suspect was wearing maroon pants that taper, black dress shoes and a black backpack with a large buckle. He was also carrying a blue Wal-Mart grocery bag with pictures of blueberries on it.
Portland police and fire officials are investigating the case as a possible bias crime.
“This also seemed to be a targeted attack at the mosque. And so that, of course, is of great significance and importance to us. We’re concerned about additional fires or events. And so we would like to apprehend this suspect,” said Lt. Wendy Stanley, who is investigating the fire.
Portland police have not connected the suspect to an attempted arson of a Northwest Portland synagogue that happened earlier this week.
In a press release sent Thursday, the Oregon chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the act, which took place a day after Eid al-Fitr, a holiday Muslims celebrate at the conclusion of Ramadan.
“This deeply disturbing incident is a reminder that hate and bigotry continue to pose a genuine threat to the Muslim community,” said CAIR-Oregon Board Member Muz Afzal in the release. “Houses of worship must be safe places for communities to gather without the fear of violent attack. We urge Oregonians to check on their Muslim neighbors and look out for them.”
The FBI has gotten involved in the investigation of the arson, saying that they are “in contact with our law enforcement partners and the impacted organization. We take any such incident extremely seriously.”
A $2,500 cash reward has been offered in both cases. Authorities have not stated whether the two incidents are related.
Those interested in supporting the Muslim Community Center can donate through their website at mccpdx.org to help pay for repairing the damage or helping cover the operational costs of the center
Elise Haas and Jami Seymore contributed to this story.