Los Angeles

Vandalism at 2 Hawthorne Mosques Sparks Investigation

An investigation into what authorities are calling hate crimes is underway and investigators are checking surveillance footage after two mosques were vandalized Sunday in Los Angeles County just blocks apart, officials said.

It comes two days after a mosque was set on fire in Coachella and the day after community members held an interfaith peace march.

"Really? We just had a peaceful march yesterday and somebody comes and tags up on the wall," Muhamad Awadallah said in a video he took when he found "Jesus is the way" spray-painted on the front wall of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne.

"That's like if a Muslim went to a church and wrote, 'Prophet Muhammad is the way,'" Awadallah said. "If he wanted to say 'Jesus is the way,' he could have just told us that."

Another Hawthorne mosque, about a mile from the Islamic center, was also vandalized. Crosses and the word "Jesus" were sprayed painted on the gate and windows.

Officers were called to the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque in the 13200 block of Prairie Avenue at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, according to the Hawthorne Police Department.

When officers arrived, they discovered what appeared to be a hand grenade-type device in the driveway, along with graffiti sprayed on the fence of the property. The area was evacuated and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Bomb Squad determined the device was a plastic replica of a hand grenade, officials said.

An image, which police said appeared to be a "Jesus," was sprayed in white paint on the mosque's fence. The graffiti appeared to have occurred overnight.

The day before, Awadallah said they held a peaceful Christian and Muslim march.

"And today at five in the morning, we come to pray and we see that on the wall," Awadallah said.

Normally, more than 50 people fill the mosque on Sunday nights for an Islamic class. After the vandalism, members said they were too scared to come.

The FBI released a statement regarding the incidents, saying Hawthorne police were leading the investigation, but federal authorities would review evidence in the case.

"FBI Agents responded this morning to separate incidents at a mosque and an Islamic Center located in Hawthorne, California, that were either vandalized or threatened," the FBI said. "Investigators will work to identify the person or group responsible, the motivation and whether religious bias was a factor."

Both incidents are being classified as hate crimes. No arrests have been made.

Anyone that may have information regarding the incidents is asked to contact Crime Stoppers 'at 800-222-8477.

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