A fire at a mosque in Escondido, California, early Sunday is being investigated as a hate crime, police told BuzzFeed News.
The fire, which police believe was set by an arsonist, was reported at 3:15 a.m. at the Dar-ul-Arqam mosque, about 30 miles outside San Diego.
Upon arriving at the scene, officers also found graffiti referencing the New Zealand mosque terror attacks, which killed 50 people earlier this month.
Lt. Chris Lick with the Escondido police declined to elaborate on the graffiti, saying only that it "mentioned the New Zealand incidents — let’s leave it at that.”
The fire, which was extinguished by people who had been staying overnight at the mosque, made minimal damage and did not cause any injuries.
No suspects were immediately identified, police said, and the FBI is now assisting with the investigation.
Seven people had been staying overnight in the mosque to perform itikaf, the practice of secluding oneself in the mosque to pray, Dustin Craun, the San Diego executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, said.
"And they still stayed there last night," Craun said. "They’re holding it down."
A spokesperson for the mosque declined to comment.
Karem Elhams, a member of the local Muslim community and the founder of a local Islamic center, told BuzzFeed News they believe "an Islamophobe poured gasoline on the side of the building."
"Fortunately, he ran off when people inside the mosque preparing for morning prayer heard some noise outside and went to see what was happening and were able to scare him off," Elhams said.
In a statement from the local CAIR chapter, Craun said the organization is grateful the fire was quickly extinguished, and asked anyone with information on a suspect to come forward.
“It is disturbing enough that some sick individual would attempt to burn a house of worship to the ground, but referencing the slayings in New Zealand is beyond the pale," Craun said.