Crime & Justice

Graffiti at Hawthorne mosques investigated as hate crimes

Graffiti at a Hawthorne mosque left Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015.
Graffiti at a Hawthorne mosque left Sunday, Dec. 13, 2015.
Hawthorne Police Department

Vandals spray-painted graffiti about Jesus at two mosques in the Southern California city of Hawthorne and left a device that looked like a hand grenade in one of the driveways, leading police to investigate both incidents as hate crimes.

The vandalism and other recent attacks against mosques and Muslims in California come after a couple who federal officials say were inspired by Islamist extremists killed 14 people at a holiday luncheon in San Bernardino on Dec. 2.

Some Muslims in Southern California and beyond have worried about the potential for reprisals, while leaders of various faiths have called for tolerance.

On Sunday, a bomb squad was called and the area around the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque was evacuated after the device was discovered around 6:30 a.m. Sunday, police said in a statement.

Investigators determined the device was a plastic replica of a hand grenade. The word "Jesus" was sprayed in white paint on the mosque's fence.

Officers received another call that the phrase "Jesus is the way" was spray-painted in front of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne. Police and the FBI are investigating the vandalism as hate crimes.

"This type of behavior is born out of ignorance and fear, and we as members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ... we respond with peaceful dialogue," said Ahsan M. Khan, a chapter president of the community.

"It's through peaceful dialogue that we can hopefully see less of this type of hate crime," he said.

Ahmed Azam, from the Islamic Center of Hawthorne said just one day before the vandalism appeared, his Muslim community participated in an interfaith procession with a local Catholic church. Azam said that since the graffiti incident, the mosque has received calls of support from that church and other local Christians.

“There is no practicing Christian or Muslim or Jew, in fact, who would do something like this," he said. "The faith always guides people to do the best for themselves and for the community.”

He explained that the mosque that was vandalized has a school on the property.

“We have a security guard in front of the mosque now in the daytime. Everybody is looking at this like there is a potential threat. We have to be careful, because we have so many kids going in and out from school," he said.

Azam said the mosque has a security camera that captured footage of the possible vandal, which is being turned in to police.

Other local Muslims have been threatened in recent days. In neighboring San Bernardino County, a 40-year-old man accused of pulling a knife and threatening a Muslim woman at a car wash in the city of Chino Hills was expected in court this week.

Daniel Senteno was arrested Thursday on suspicion of making criminal threats and brandishing a weapon. Prosecutors also were expected to pursue hate crime charges, sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin newspaper.

Senteno was held in lieu of $75,000 bail. It wasn't immediately known if he has a lawyer.

In nearby Palm Springs, a fire that authorities said was intentionally set damaged a mosque Friday. They arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the fire and booked him on suspicion of commission of a hate crime, arson, maliciously setting a fire and burglary.

The fire at the Islamic Center of Palm Springs was contained to the small building's front lobby, and no one was injured.