The attempt to burn the Garden City Mosque in Toowoomba, Queensland was discovered by some worshippers who came to the Mosque on Saturday, 24 January at about 12:30pm. When the glass on the entrance door of the meeting hall of the Mosque complex was found broken, several Muslims went to see the building. To their surprise they found the whole building full of smell due to burning of the timber on the floor of the building. The arson attacker spread lots of toilet tissues all across the building to let the fire spread everywhere. They also found the gas stove in the nearby kitchen was left open so that the fire may burst the gas bottle and engulf the whole compound. Later they found the signs of fire and flame at the entrance to the Imam’s office in the main Mosque building.
The footage from the CCTV captured both spots in fire and showed significant duration of burning inside the meeting hall. It was confirmed that after the night prayers on Friday, 23 January 2015 when all the worshippers left the Mosque, one tall person with hood on his head entered the Mosque complex and set fire in the meeting hall about 9:30pm on Friday night. The attempt to burn the office of the Mosque took place at about 9:43pm. The attacker left the property at 9:48pm through the Mosque parking.
Several Police detectives joined the investigation promptly the same evening and night. The fire and rescue personnel finished their investigation at about 6:45pm, but the crime scene was still inaccessible to anyone. After about 9pm we were allowed to enter the meeting hall after the police finished collecting all the evidences of the crime.
Some of the stories in the national and international media were not based on facts, rather distorted to wrongly indicate that the reason for fire as gas leak rather than the claim that police suspected arson.
We received great community support immediately after the news of the incident spread out. The Vice Chancellor of the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), Professor Jan Thomas emailed me from Hong Kong expressing her concern for the Mosque and support for the community.
I received email from the President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Ghaith Kreyam, Habib Jamal of Gold Coast, Dr Mark Copland of Catholic Justice Commission, Ali Kadri of Holland Park, Yusuf Limbada of Brisbane, Dr Shamim Siddiqui of Roma, Muhammad Yusuf of Brisbane, and phone call from Dr John McVeigh, Agriculture Minister of Queensland among many others.
When Dr Mark Copland proposed to join a prayer in the Mosque to express his sympathy for the Muslim community, I told him to think about a show of support gathering by members of the wider community. He talked to several others and agreed to a meeting of solidarity at the Mosque on Monday, 26 January 2015 (Australia Day) at 3pm to avoid conflict/clash with other Australia Day programs in the city.
With a very short notice of several hours a range of dignitaries including Federal Minister of Industry and Research, Hon Ian Macfarlane MP, Queensland Minister of Agriculture, Dr John McVeigh, local indigenous elder Br Darby McCarthy, Acting Vice Chancellor of University of Southern Queensland, Professor Janet Verbyla, Representatives of the Catholic and Anglican Bishops of Toowoomba, Pure Land Learning College, Deputy VC of USQ, Professor Ken Udas, Director of International Office of USQ, Dr Talal Yusef, Labour Party Candidate for Toowoomba South, Graham Storey, and many others confirmed their participation in the meeting.
A solidarity gathering was held at the Garden City Mosque, Toowoomba on the request of a number of members of the wider community, mainly from different churches and multicultural organisations, on Monday, 26 January 2015 at the Mosque property. The main objective of the meeting was to demonstrate a show of support for the Muslim community after the arson attack in the main meeting hall of the Mosque which burned to a medium size hole on the timber floor.
The Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice Commission, Dr Mark Copland served as the Master of the Ceremony. The meeting started with the recitation from the Qur’an by Imam Abdul Kader and welcome by local indigenous elder Br Darby McCarthy.
The speakers in the meeting expressed their solidarity with the Muslim community and the Garden City Mosque. They confirmed that criminal act of an individual is no way representative of the peaceful residents of Toowoomba. Leaders in Toowoomba have invested a lot of efforts and resources to make the Garden City a Model City of Peace and Harmony and working hard to receive UNESCO recognition.
The police is yet to identify and capture the perpetrator. The repair of the damage to the Mosque complex would start after getting suitable quotations and sourcing necessary fund. The Committee is also exploring options to upgrade security, and may need to hire provide security company with proper alarm system.