Fire Destroys Bronx Mosque

NY 1 - September 19, 2009

Members of the West African Muslim community in the Bronx are dealing with the realization that their mosque was destroyed in a fire Thursday night. The fire tore through several other buildings including a grocery store.

Residents and worshipers cleaned up the mess at the Islamic Cultural Center Friday, while arrangements were made to close streets in the area so worshipers can gather outside for the Ramadan services on Sunday.

The flames broke out around 11 p.m. in the mosque on East 166th Street in Morrisania and then spread. It took several hours to get it under control.

Three firefighters were taken to the hospital with minor injuries. "The whole place was gone. The fire started inside the store and it was burning for like two hours and then everything started blowing, exploding," said local resident Lenroy Carr.

The cause was still under investigation late Friday.

"At this time the fire does not not appear to be suspicious," said Chief Fire Marshal Robert Byrnes. "The fire marshal determined the fire started in the basement ceiling level in the Islamic Cultural Center, and we are focusing our investigation on some electrical equipment that was in the ceiling of the basement."

The fire came more than two years after another devastating fire in the community in which 10 people, including nine children, were killed.

"It's a tragedy all over. It's a revisiting of this type of tragedy that occurred a couple of years ago," said Bakary Camara of the Gambian Society of New York. "Five years of building a facility that had become the main facility for West Africans Muslims in the Bronx has been basically destroyed now."

"We're just going to rebuild and make it stronger and better," said Muslim leader Sheikh Moussa Drammeh. "So we are going to have a strategy meeting, so that we can take the next step." The Islamic Cultural Center is the same one where funerals were held for the victims of Highbridge fire in March 2007.

Mamadou Somare lost his wife and four children and Moussa Magassa lost five children.

The center also served as a second home to the two families.