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Family, devastated by Muslim site’s destruction, insists fire was hate crime


This news story was published on April 22, 2012.
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Gregan Wingert, Las Vegas Sun –

Filled with emptiness, Kausar Chowdhry watched as her husband and other religious leaders stood Wednesday near the charred remains of an Islamic funeral home that was under construction.

“I’ve been living and breathing this project every day,” said the wife of Bashir Chowdhry, chairman of the Islamic Society of Nevada board of trustees and the Muslim Mortuary Foundation.

Bashir Chowdhry and his family had been working on establishing the religious site at 4425 E. Cartier Ave., near Lamb Boulevard and Carey Avenue, to serve the Muslim community in the Las Vegas Valley.

The family’s dream turned to ashes Feb. 22, when the nearly completed $1.5 million two-story structure burned to the ground.

“We need some answers,” Bashir Chowdhry said. “The authorities are done, they have no more leads.”

The Clark County Fire Department and the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could not determine if the fire was a hate crime, according to Clark County officials.

“We have pursued a number of potential leads in this case, but none of them have allowed us to identify who caused the fire,” Clark County Fire Chief Bertral Washington said in a recent news release.

The multi-agency investigation concluded that human hands started the fire but could not determine if the fire was accidental or arson, according to county officials.

Bashir Chowdhry stood alongside several other community religious leaders Wednesday to make their message clear that such acts of destruction will not be tolerated.

Rabbi Sanford Akselrad, spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid in Henderson and vice president of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada, said it was important to “show a sense of solidarity with our Muslim friends in the community.”

Right now the family struggles to consider when — or if — construction will resume. The 11,000-square-foot structure took nearly 2 1/2 years to plan and build. It was nearly 70 percent completed, Bashir Chowdhry said. “It was essentially my pension plan.”

While under construction, the unoccupied funeral home was insured by the building contractor, Chowdhry said. A potential insurance payout likely will be determined after a contractor board investigation is completed. For now, that leaves the Chowdhry family in a distressing state of limbo.

Kausar Chowdhry’s eyes teared up behind her sunglasses as she stared off in the direction of the construction site.

Members of the family said faulty electricity or gas lines had been ruled out as the cause of the blaze.

“The fire department is saying, ‘undetermined, undetermined, undetermined,’” Kausar Chowdhry said. “It wasn’t an accident — it was planned.”

Bashir Chowdhry considers the fire a hate crime.

“Obviously somebody doesn’t want us here,” he said

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