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  • Emergency personnel are seen at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce which was set on fire in Fort Pierce, Florida, Sept. 12, 2016.

    Emergency personnel are seen at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce which was set on fire in Fort Pierce, Florida, Sept. 12, 2016. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 September 2016

"For this to happen to us, on the morning of our biggest celebration of the year, was something horrific," said Hamaad Rahman.

The Florida mosque where mass shooter Omar Mateen prayed was badly damaged Monday in an arson attack which the local Muslim community said was a hate crime as it came on the day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday, but investigators insisted that no motive had been found.

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"For this to happen to us, on the morning of our biggest celebration of the year, was something horrific," Hamaad Rahman, associate imam at the targeted Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, said at a news conference Monday

"Our community is bigger than a building, we are stronger than that," he added. "Hopefully as time goes by, we will be able to rebuild."

Mateen killed 49 people at an Orlando gay nightclub on June 12, in an act of bigotry and revenge. Leaders at the center have said that since the nightclub shooting the facility has received threats and that security had been stepped up.

At the news conference, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Florida said the blaze was an act of hate. Ahmed Bedier, president of the civic group United Voices for America, also called for authorities to investigate it as a hate crime.

Law enforcement officers received reports of flames rising from the mosque, located about 100 miles southeast of Orlando, at about 12:30 a.m. Monday local time, County Sheriff's Major David Thompson told reporters at a news conference.

Surveillance video showed a white man riding up on a Harley Davidson-style motorcycle, Thompson said. The suspect got off the bike and approached the mosque carrying a bottle of liquid and papers, moments before the blaze erupted, he said.

"Immediately after the individual approached, a flash occurred and the individual fled the area," Thompson said.

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But Thompson said investigators were not ready to consider it a hate crime despite the overwhelming evidence. "We do not have evidence right now that says it's a hate crime," he said, according to the local the Sun Sentinel.

"Of course, with what is going on, and of course because this is a place of worship, and because this occurred on the anniversary of 9/11, we're going to explore that," Thompson added.

Investigators have not identified the man, who shook his hand while leaving the area of the flames, indicating that he might have burned himself, Thompson said.

The mosque in Fort Pierce, identified as Mateen's place of worship, has reported threats of violence and intimidation. In June a motorcycle gang circled the center and shouted at its members, and in July a Muslim man was beaten outside the mosque.

Mateen was killed by law enforcement officials after killing 49 people and wounding 53 others in the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12.

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