- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A small fire was set to a Central Florida church and the Arabic phrase “Allahu Akbar” was spray-painted on one of its walls early Monday morning in what church members are calling a possible hate crime.

Melbourne police said officers and firefighters discovered the blaze at New Shiloh Christian Church after a fire alarm sounded shortly after 3 a.m. Fire sprinklers helped contain the flames to a storage unit connected to the 125,000-square-foot building, a local CBS affiliate reported.

The phrase “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is greater,” was spray-painted in blue on one side of the storage unit, and a swastika with the phrase “We see u” was painted on the other side. Police said the vandals also broke into the electrical room by burning through locks and kicking in doors. Damage to the church property was estimated to be about $5,000, the station reported.

“It really took a lot out of me when I drove up and I saw that sign on the side of the building, because I’m preaching God is love. Why would someone take the time to put a sign up to show hatred?” Bishop Jacquelyn Gordon told CBS. “They told us that this is definitely a hate crime and that they’re going to patrol our area even more and just look out for us and they thought it was senseless and I feel the same way.”

Police have not confirmed that the case is being investigated as a hate crime, but said they are investigating arson and criminal mischief. The FBI said it is aware of the incident and reviewing the matter.

“I would just say that everything is being looked at. All avenues are going to be explored. If it meets that criteria, that would be something that would be looked at,” Lt. Cheryl Trainer told the CBS affiliate.

Bishop Gordon said this the second time in less than two weeks that vandals have targeted their sprawling church. She said they plan to increase security while members are there.

“The one thing I really want them to do is not to be afraid,” she told the station. “We’re going to have people walking around surrounding the area every time we have service here to make sure people are safe and nothing happens on our watch.”

Bufus Jefferson, a church member who has worked with Bishop Gordon for 17 years, said the church has “never seen anything like this.”

“It just feels uneasy,” Mr. Jefferson said, Florida Today reported. “We don’t know what’s next.”

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