COACHELLA, Calif. (Reuters) – Police have arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of setting a fire at a Southern California mosque in a hate attack, following the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino by a Muslim couple in what the FBI is treating as an act of terror, authorities said on Saturday.
Carl James Dial Jr. was arrested in connection with Friday’s fire in the entrance of Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Authorities have said the fire caused no injuries. But it charred the building’s stucco front entrance, leaving it with chunks of plaster torn out and littered with debris.
The blaze heightened concerns about an anti-Islamic backlash in the wake of the Dec. 2 massacre of 14 people by U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, 29, at a holiday party in San Bernardino, about 75 miles northwest of Coachella.
The FBI has said it is treating the shooting as an act of terrorism, citing the couple’s declaration that they were acting on behalf of the Islamic State militant group.
The statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, which is leading the investigation into the fire, said Dial, 23, was arrested in Palm Desert, a community near Coachella, on suspicion of arson, hate crime and burglary. Online jail records indicated he was arrested on Friday night and held in the Indio Jail on bail of $150,000.
The Sheriff’s Department declined to release further details, including whether Dial was motivated to burn the mosque in direct reaction to the San Bernardino shooting.
It was not clear if Dial had obtained an attorney, and he could not be reached for comment from jail.
On his Facebook page, Dial made a number of references to Islamic State, such as on Oct. 31 when he wrote that he was watching execution videos by the militant group.
He also overlayed his profile picture with the French flag, as have many Facebook users in response to Islamic State’s coordinated series of shootings and suicide bombings in Paris that killed 130 people last month.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation joined the probe into the fire at the mosque as a possible civil rights violation motivated by religious bias, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
(Reporting by By Sam Mircovich)