Bahai News -- Reuters - Fires at Four L.A. Religious Centers Investigated TOP STORIES

Fires at Four L.A. Religious Centers Investigated

Wed May 7, 2003 03:18 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Suspicious fires at four Los Angeles-area religious centers in 11 days have prompted an investigation into whether the incidents are related hate crimes, fire officials said on Wednesday.

The latest fire erupted early on Wednesday at a synagogue in the northwest Los Angeles suburb of Encino when someone apparently threw a Molotov cocktail through a window.

The blaze at Valley Beth Shalom Temple was confined to the sanctuary by the building's sprinkler system but caused $20,000 in damage, a fire department spokesman said.

Los Angeles mayor James Hahn denounced the fires as 'terrorist acts' and 'hate crimes' and vowed to find the perpetrators and prosecute them 'very, very strongly.'

In addition to the temple, suspicious fires have broken out in a Protestant church, an Iranian synagogue and a Jewish community center.

'These senseless acts are more than just crimes, they go against everything Los Angeles stands for,' Hahn said at a news conference on Wednesday. 'This is something we can't tolerate.'

Fire officials termed the incidents suspicious and summoned a multi-agency task force that includes the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to probe links between fires.

'They have not mentioned any similarities. The only thing is that they are all suspicious,' fire spokesman Jim Wells said of the task force.

No injuries resulted from the fires and no suspects have been identified, he said. The first blaze broke out on April 26 at the First Presbyterian Church of Encino in an office area and was quickly extinguished, Wells said.

The next two fires took place on Monday. A midday fire caused about $12,000 in damage to the Baha'i Community Center and hours later, another fire charred the roof of a storefront synagogue that serves Iranian immigrants, Wells said.

©Copyright 2003, Reuters

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