Ahmadiyya Muslim Community / muslimsforpeace.org / AP Photo

Two Southern California mosques vandalized

The FBI is investigating the graffiti sprayed on two mosques in Hawthorne as hate crimes; fake grenade left at one site

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 and the FBI 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. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Bomb Squad responded and 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.

Ahmadiyyas are a Muslim minority that has suffered persecution in Pakistan. Most of them in Southern California are of Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi descent.

"It's through peaceful dialogue that we can hopefully see less of this type of hate crime," said Khan, who participated in a vigil on Dec. 4 to condemn the mass shooting that killed 14 people and injured 21 in San Bernardino.

Although leaders of various faiths have called for tolerance —there was an interfaith gathering in Hawthorne on Saturday — leaders in American Muslim communities say a rise in hate crimes and bias incidents began after Nov. 13, when gunmen belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) opened fire in Paris, killing 130 people. The number of reports spiked further after a Muslim couple, who reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIL, staged the San Bernardino shooting.

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.

Al Jazeera and The Associated Press

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