AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin Fire Department said there was an arson attempt at the North Austin Muslim Community Center Tuesday.
AFD said on Tuesday morning at approximately 12:38 a.m., an unknown person was captured on security video pouring liquid along a fence at North Austin Muslim Community Center at 11900 North Lamar Blvd.
AFD responded to a call for an odor investigation at around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. When crews arrived, they smelled gasoline, but couldn't find a definite source for it, so the Austin Police Department was called in.
APD noticed some fence pickets had been knocked down and there were scraps of burned paper in a nearby field.
In the security video, the alleged arsonist then appears to light wadded up paper and use it to attempt to ignite the fence but failed to do so.
"There's a very good possibility he could've done a lot of damage and burned the building down," Austin Fire Cpt. Andy Reardon said at a press conference.
The alleged arsonist is described to be a man, approximately 6 feet tall and 160 pounds. He was wearing a Nike sweatshirt with a black hoodie underneath, used to conceal his face. He was also wearing blue jeans and black Nike tennis shoes.
The alleged arsonist's vehicle is a white or light-colored Ford F150 or a similar type of vehicle. The alleged arsonist was on the property for at least 20 minutes according to the time on the security video.
Last September, someone vandalized the center twice. Police still haven't made an arrest in that case.
The center's imam, Islam Mossaad, calls this attempted arson "disheartening."
"I think there's a lot of negativity and stereotypes about Islam and Muslims that come from a place of ignorance that leads to hatred and then that hatred can sprout into actual action acts and attempted acts of violence," he said.
The center plans to add more security guards, along with a metal fence near where firefighters said the man got in.
Despite yet another attempt at disturbing their peace, Mossaad said his members are taught not to be hateful and instead will continue forward.
"We are undeterred, and we will continue to come to worship and for education and for service to the community, that that will be the ongoing mission for the North Austin Muslim Community Center," he said.
If you have any information regarding this incident, AFD urges you to call Crimestoppers at (512) 472-8477.
"The Austin Fire Department is committed to keeping our community safe, and we will work hard, extremely hard, to identify and prosecute because this person to the fullest extent of the law," Chief Joel Baker said.
A joint investigation by AFD and APD is ongoing. APD has also stepped up their patrols in the area.
The center will be hosting an open house on Saturday, April 27, at 7 p.m. "to foster understanding and to make friendly relations with the greater Austin community," according to a Facebook post.
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