HAWTHORNE, Calif. – Vandals spray-painted graffiti at two mosques in the Southern California city of Hawthorne and left a device that looked like a hand grenade in the driveway of one of the mosques on Sunday, prompting police to investigate both incidents as a hate crime.
A bomb squad was called, and the area around the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Baitus-Salaam Mosque was evacuated after the device was discovered around 6:30 a.m., police said in a statement. Investigators determined the device was a plastic replica of a hand grenade. The word "Jesus" was sprayed in white paint on the mosque's fence.
Police received another call that the phrase "Jesus is the way" was spray-painted in front of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne.
Police and the FBI were investigating the vandalism, which appeared to have occurred overnight, as hate crimes.
"This type of behavior is born out of ignorance and fear and we as members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community ... we respond with peaceful dialogue," said Ahsan M. Khan, a chapter president of the community.
"It's through peaceful dialogue that we can hopefully see less of this type of hate crime," he said.
On Friday, a mosque in Palm Springs was damaged in a fire that authorities said was intentionally set. They arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the fire and booked him for investigation of commission of a hate crime, arson, maliciously setting a fire and burglary.
The fire at the Islamic Center of Palm Springs was contained to the small building's front lobby, and no one was injured.
The mosque is about 75 miles from San Bernardino, where a couple who federal officials say were inspired by Islamist extremists opened fire Dec. 2 at a holiday luncheon and killed 14 people. Some Muslims in Southern California and beyond have worried about the potential for reprisals, while leaders of various faiths have called for tolerance.