A 27-year-old man of no fixed address was charged with damaging property and using a hoax explosive device at the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a Falls Church mosque, at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 19.
An initial report from the Fairfax County Police Department listed a separate incident committed by the same man as a bias crime based on statements made to members of the mosque by Chester H. Gore, the alleged perpetrator of the crime, hours before he used the explosive device.
“It’s enough that it would lead a reasonable person to believe, given the location of where he was, given the time, he was there at three in the morning….If you were there on the other side and you were in the mosque and this guy approaches given his actions and then what he said,” said Roger Henriquez, an officer with the Fairfax County Police Department. “It would lead you to believe that this guy is doing this because we are of this religious denomination or ethnicity or combination of both.”
Because there was structural damage to the mosque, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department took over the investigation and Gore was charged with using a hoax explosive device, entering property of another for the purpose of causing damage based on religious conviction, destruction of property of less than $1,000 and possession and use of illegal fireworks, Fairfax County Fire and Rescue reported in a press release on Monday, Nov. 23.
Battalion Chief Willie Bailey with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue told the News-Press that Gore attempted forcible entry into the mosque, threw devices into the parking lot of the mosque and set off a hoax explosive device in the mosque’s parking lot. Imam Johari Abdulmalik, the outreach director for Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, said that Gore used threw Molotov cocktails into the parking lot.
According to the report of the incident in the early morning hours, three members of the mosque challenged Gore and, after a brief altercation, he walked away from the property. A preliminary investigation revealed that Gore and members of the mosque were known to each other. Both the police and Abdulmalik confirmed that Gore and the members of the mosque that encountered him knew each other from going to school together in their youth. Officer Henriquez said that initially Gore started placing cones in front of the entrance of the mosque to block it and that is when he was noticed by the members of the mosque.
“It appears that the folks from the mosque that encountered this gentleman at three in the morning, they knew each other,” Henriquez said. “There was some known relationship there, acquaintances at best.”
According to Henriquez, the members of the mosque who were present when the crime occurred “were concerned that something was going to happen to the mosque.” This incident comes as the wave of Islamophobia is peaking in the wake of the ISIS terrorist attack on multiple locations around Paris on Friday, Nov. 13.
Property damage to a fence gate at the mosque, located at 3159 Row St., Falls Church, is estimated at $200. Gore is being held at the Fairfax County Adult Detention Center without bond.
Abdulmalik, the outreach director for Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center, told the News-Press that the two incidents involving Gore were not the only instances of discrimination the mosque and its members have faced in the wake of the Paris attacks.
He said there was another incident that occurred on Saturday, Nov. 14, when a man pulled up in his car, got out of it, entered the mosque and yelled “You people don’t belong here. You need to go back to where you came from and you need to accept Jesus before you die,” before being asked to leave the premises.
Abdulmalik said that the mosque’s security took a photo of the man and his car and filed a complaint with the police, but said that a lot of members of the mosque are uneasy and have been experiencing an increase in discriminatory attacks in recent weeks. He said that members of the mosque are getting insulted on the streets, at grocery stores and other public places.
“People are telling us, especially women, because they’re recognizable because of the head scarf that people are taking license to say things like ‘Why don’t you go back to where you came from,’ ‘You don’t belong here,’ ‘terrorist’ and etcetera,” Abdulmalik said. “It makes people feel uneasy. Going to school, people are concerned about the safety of their children.”
Abdulmalik said that he believes that the people who have encroached on the mosque in recent days are “emotionally disturbed” and that a climate of intolerance and hate that has been created by politicians and the media have given these emotionally disturbed people the fuel to act out in discriminatory and violent ways.
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center has issued a statement on its website offering condolences to those impacted by the terrorist attacks in Paris and condemning the attacks. And, according to Abdulmalik, the mosque has been receiving a lot of support from the surrounding community, including Alcohol, Tobbaco and Firearms, the FBI and Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.
“The good news is we’re receiving a lot of support and supportive statements from the community at large, but you still feel under siege when someone throws a Molotov cocktail over the fence of the mosque,” Abdulmalik said. “But we’ve been getting a lot of support from our interfaith partners, churches and others in the area, elected officials and so on.”
Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center is hosting an open community dinner on Thursday, Nov. 26 for a Thanksgiving feast for those in need; that morning the mosque will be holding its weekly food bank. On Saturday, Dec. 5, the mosque is joining with other leaders in the community and institutions of faith in holding a blanket and coat drive for Syrian refugees. When asked if the mosque had any apprehension to open up its doors because of recent events, Abdulmalik said that “the best defense is a good offense.”
“We’re going to open our hearts and we’re going to open up our doors to welcome our neighbor….We’ve been reminded by these people that we should be welcoming the stranger,” Abulmalik said. “And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”