The region's leading Muslim civil rights organization is calling on state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate the vandalism of a Newark, Del. mosque as a hate crime early Friday.
A worshipper who came for morning prayers at The Islamic Society of Delaware, located at 28 Salem Church Rd., noticed the damage Friday morning. Officials estimate the mosque was vandalized between midnight and 4:30 a.m.
"The police have, so far, only characterized it as a misdemeanor act," said Jacob Bender, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of The Council on American-Islamic Relations. "We want the federal government to declare it a hate crime so that more resources will be attached to catching the alleged perpetrators."
Someone tore down fences at the mosque, destroyed a wooden sign and used the debris to fashion a cross, which they staked in the ground.
"They left a cross, so that's pretty clear," Bender said when asked if the incident was a hate crime.
Delaware State Police and FBI officials have partnered to launch an inquiry into the vandalism, according to Delaware State Police Cpl. John Day.
"As to whether it's a hate crime or not, with Delaware law, it's a matter of motive," Day said. "We haven't classified it as hate crime yet."
The vandalism came as the first such attack in the mosque's nearly 25-year history.
Still, Bender said similar incidents are on the upswing across the country.
"This is clearly one in a series of attacks upon mosques that we have seen around the country, which is we feel a direct result of an increase in Islamophobic prejudice from a well-funded network of individuals and organizations," he said.
The New Hampshire construction site of the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester in July suffered more than $30,000 in damage after vandals smashed windows and attempted to light fires.
A Missouri man was arrested just last week for allegedly burning down the Islamic Society of Joplin last year.
"I think there's this well-funded network of people who believe that Islam is a danger to the United States, and they are propagating and spreading mistrust and falsehoods about Islam and trying to get Americans to see their Muslim neighbors as foreign elements and as a danger to American society," Bender said.
He said the acts recall prejudice that was in the past directed against Catholics, Jews and Italian immigrants in America.
"So it's nothing new in the history of the United States, but it's been impeded by people joining together and giving voice to the opposition against hate," Bender said.
"And so, today, Catholics, who used to be despised by Americans, are now accepted by American society. We feel at CAIR, by joining together with other groups, we can help calm the mistrust of Muslims in society."
An interfaith prayer vigil is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at The Islamic Society of Delaware. Bender said Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is expected to attend.
In the meantime, mosque officials have installed additional lighting around the house of worship and are in the process of adding more security cameras to the entrance.