As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, a national Muslim civil rights organization is advising mosques to be aware of potential arson and vandalism.
The alert stems from concerns that recent world events, like the terror attack Monday in Manchester, could embolden individuals or groups with anti-Muslim intentions to act on them.
"It's really disheartening to have to do that, but at the same time we have to do what we have to do in order to protect ourselves and the people around us," said Hurnessa Fariad of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, aka ADAMS Center, in Loudoun County.
The group Muslim Advocates issued the warning after finding that in 2017 alone, fires at mosques have either been ruled as arson or are being investigated as arson in Austin, Texas; Victoria, Texas; Bellevue, Washington; Tampa, Florida and Pittsfield Township, Michigan.
Mosque members face other attacks as well, Muslim Advocates' policy director, Scott Simpson, said.
"We've seen mosques be vandalized with graffiti, we've seen broken windows, we've seen pork wrapped around door handles," he said.
Most mosques in the D.C. area already have increased their security with surveillance cameras and other measures.
Rizwan Jaka said a spate of vandalism at the ADAMS Center stopped after extensive and ongoing interfaith outreach efforts.
"We must stand shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand," he said.
Maryland's Office of the State Fire Marshall issued these warnings to houses of worship earlier this month on the risk of arson:
1. Restricted entry - It is often the case that when the church is unoccupied the door is locked. Where it is required to keep the place of worship open it is recommended that someone is on the premises. This may be achieved by having a roster of members willing to give up an hour or so of their time to act as "caretaker". Arrangements have to be made for passing on the key and for return of the key at the end of the day to the person in charge. Never hide keys or leave keys on the premises.
2. Doors and windows should of good repair and locked when not in use.
3. Walls, gates and fences should be of good repair.
Halls, Community Centers -
1. These areas tend to be targets for thieves and vandals. Ensure that doors and windows are securely locked after use, keys returned to the person in charge and provide a general inspection before the last person leaves.
2. Valuables, as much as possible, should be securely locked away.
3. Worship offices when not in use must be kept locked. These are areas where many arson fires occur.
4. If appropriate enlist the help of neighbors in keeping an eye open for suspicious behavior.
5. Sheds/outbuildings may contain tools, (which help intruders to break into places of worship) or flammable liquids to help an intruder start a fire. Keep outbuildings securely locked.
Good housekeeping -
1. Vandals or thieves (to cover their tracks) will use any "fuel" available to light fires.
2. Try to ensure there is no combustible material lying around for an arsonist. This is particularly important where churches are used for recreational and educational uses and in church halls.
3. Don't let trash or dry vegetation accumulate - inside or outside the church.
4. Matches, candles, and fuels can all be used to start a fire and help it spread. Keep all such materials locked away.
1. Intruder alarm which will sound an audible warning and which should preferably be linked via a supervised central alarm.
2. Fire extinguishers for use by people on the spot who are trained in their use.
3. Security lighting - Intruders like to work in the dark. Security lighting of areas adjacent to doors or windows can be a powerful deterrent.
4. CCTV Installation of one or more closed-circuit-television cameras well act as a deterrent to intruders.