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Islamic Center vandalized (video)

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
July 10, 2013 at 2:10 a.m.
Updated July 11, 2013 at 2:11 a.m.

An unknown person spray-painted this tag on the front wall of the Victoria Islamic Center sometime in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

When Osama Hassan awoke Wednesday morning, preparing for the first day of holy Ramadan, he was not expecting to spend his morning with police.

Shortly after dawn, Hassan discovered the Victoria Islamic Center was vandalized.

The crime occurred on the eve of the holiest month in Islam.

Hassan, the majid's, or mosque's, imam, notified Victoria Police about 7 a.m. Wednesday after he noticed blue graffiti on the front right side of the building.

The building, on East Airline Road, was tagged by unknown persons with blue spray paint. The letter "H" and the number "8," a common computer shorthand for "hate," were graffitied on the wall.

"I have no clue why they would do that. It is very sad," the imam said, quietly. "We try to be good neighbors, and we have no problems with anyone here."

Hassan said he initially didn't notice the vandalism, arriving before sunrise to prepare for Fajr, the morning prayer.

Two hours later, he noticed the graffiti and contacted police.

"For me, I wish people would show respect for a place of worship. It's not about Christian or Muslim but about being a place of worship. I don't understand why they would do this," he muttered, a strong Egyptian-English brogue present. "It's just as bad if this happened to a church."

Victoria Police Lt. Ralph Buentello said Officer Chris Case responded to the Islamic Center to examine the graffiti.

Officers are currently pursuing the crime as criminal mischief.

Buentello said he and Case were unaware the painted "H8" had a meaning - or if the vandalism was in any way connected with the start of Ramadan.

"We're investigating it. There's nothing to indicate it's a hate crime at this time," Buentello said. "As more information develops, that may change."

Hassan said the Islamic Center is equipped with eight 24-hour cameras around the property, and he's confident those involved in the vandalism will be identified.

The cameras were installed around the property after a 2001 incident that involved someone leaving a decapitated pig head on the doorstep of the Islamic Center.

Another similar incident of defacing public property occurred in 2007 when Nathan Burr Bowers painted anti-Semitic phrases on Victoria's only Jewish temple. Bowers pleaded guilty in 2008 and was sentenced to a 10-year deferred sentence.

The recorded footage from the crime was turned over to police, and Buentello said detectives will do a thorough search of the video.

Defacing public property is a state jail felony in Texas "if the damage or destruction is inflicted on a place of worship or human burial, a public monument or a community center that provides medical, social or educational programs and the amount of the pecuniary loss to real property or to tangible personal property is less than $20,000" according to a Texas statute pertaining to institutional vandalism.

Still, the holy month of Ramadan must continue, and spirits will remain high at the Islamic Center until the month of prayer and fasting culminates next month.

Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Fitr on Aug. 8 with a break-the-fast celebration similar to Western Christmases.

"We hope we find out who did this," Hassan said.

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