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arson attack

Usama Zahid removes the Koran and other books from shelves during the cleanup after the only mosque in Peterborough, Ont., was deliberately set on fire Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Congregants at Peterborough's Masjid Al Salaam – literally, "the peace mosque" – are looking for a temporary new home after someone set fire to their building Saturday night.

The suspicion in the Central Ontario town is that one or more vandals lashed out at local Muslims following Friday's deadly attacks in Paris, which were perpetrated by terrorists acting in the name of the Islamic State militants in the Middle East.

"It looks like a hate crime," said Zahid Sultan, vice-president of the local Muslim association. Peterborough police have "told us they are taking this as a hate crime and they have taken evidence into their custody," he said.

Speaking by phone as he surveyed the damage, Mr. Sultan said somebody threw a flammable bottle of liquid through a main floor window. He estimated that the attack caused up to $100,000 in smoke damage to the mosque, which is a converted house.

Peterborough is a small city about an hour northeast of Toronto. The local mosque, now more than a decade old, sees more than 100 visitors each week for Friday prayers. The space is also used by children for instruction in Arabic and the Koran.

On Saturday, the mosque hosted a child's birthday party that had kept going until about 10 p.m. About an hour later, the projectile was thrown through the window.

Mr. Sultan said the mosque is insured and can hopefully be repaired within a month. The damage is mostly from smoke, not structural, he said.

Still, the community, whose members pray up to five times each day, are now scrambling to find alternatives for coming weeks. There are no sizable mosques nearby.

"We'll have to sit down and look for a place," Mr. Sultan said, adding that offers of help are already pouring in. "Some of the churches have offered us a place for the Friday congregation."

He said the mosque has never been vandalized before.

Police have confirmed that the fire was set deliberately and the Ontario Fire Marshal is investigating.

Peterborough MP and federal Minister of Democratic Institutions Maryam Monsef wrote in a statement: "My thoughts are with the families who visit the mosque for prayer every week."

She added, "I wish to take this moment to remind us all that Peterborough-Kawartha is a warm and generous community.… I know that the residents of Peterborough-Kawartha will be as upset as I am about this incident, and together we will continue to demonstrate that these sorts of incidents are in no way reflective of our community as a whole."

Peterborough Mayor Daryl Bennett also issued a statement condemning the fire. "Attacking a place of worship is a despicable act," he said.

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