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Fire in abandoned car outside East Amherst mosque raises suspicions in Muslim community

An abandoned vehicle set ablaze in the parking lot of an Amherst mosque last weekend is raising suspicions from the local Muslim community.

No one was injured in the fire, which occurred Sunday morning outside the Jaffarya Islamic Center of Niagara Frontier, 10300 Transit Road, East Amherst, but there’s some concern that the incident might have been a malicious act toward Muslims.

The vehicle was parked far enough away from the Jaffarya Center that it didn’t damage the Islamic worship site, said Khalid J. Qazi, chairman of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York.

“Nevertheless,” Qazi said, “it scared the people on our end. They’re scared what else might happen.”

Amherst police continue to investigate. “At this point, we really don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like it had to do with the mosque itself,” said Assistant Police Chief Charles C. Cohen. “It just seems like it was a lot where a car was left that either caught fire or set fire.”

The mosque’s night watchman – who lives next door – heard a beeping noise shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday, Qazi said. The man looked outside, saw the vehicle on fire and called 911, Qazi said.

Firefighters arrived at the scene and found no one inside the vehicle. Police traced the vehicle to a person in Lockport but think that it may have been taken from the owner, Qazi said. It’s believed someone drove it to the mosque and set it on fire, he said.

“So far, I’m satisfied with the investigation, but it is still very incomplete,” Qazi said. “I don’t think we have the final word.”

“My suspicion is there are at least two people. Somebody had to drive it, and somebody had to take that driver back,” Qazi said. “We want to know who it was and what their intentions were.”

Mosque members have had no trouble at the Jaffarya Center, Qazi said, other than a feud with a neighbor four years ago. In that case, the homeowner staked a sign on his front lawn insinuating that the Islamic worship site was home to a “bomb-making” operation.