Firefighters battle a blaze at the Islamic Center of Eastside on March 21 in Bellevue. Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Fire Department

Firefighters battle a blaze at the Islamic Center of Eastside on March 21 in Bellevue. Photo courtesy of the Bellevue Fire Department

Bellevue man charged in mosque fire lit toilet paper to start the flames

Suspect was previously convicted of ‘slashing a victim with a knife.’

King County prosecutors have charged an 18-year-old man they believe is responsible for lighting a Bellevue mosque on fire in March.

Carlos Daniel Diaz-Cruz, 18, of Bellevue faces one count of first-degree arson and is being held at King County jail on $250,000 bail.

Charged on March 30 and arrested by Bellevue police on March 27, Diaz-Cruz is alleged to have started a fire at the Islamic Center of Eastside, 14230 NE 21st St., on March 21 by lighting a pile of toilet paper on fire with a cigarette lighter.

The building had been vacant since Jan. 14, 2017 when it was first set on fire. Isaac Wayne Wilson, 37, pleaded guilty to reckless burning in connection with that fire after being initially charged with second-degree arson.

Through an investigation with the FBI, the ATF, Bellevue police and the Bellevue Fire Department, investigators were able to identify five young men ages 15-19 who were caught on video running from the scene of the fire minutes before flames embroiled the building. At this time, they do not believe the fire was a hate crime.

Bellevue police reached out to a Bellevue School District school resource officer, who, with the help of other district personnel, was able to identify three of the young men seen running from the fire.

One of those was Diaz-Cruz.

In interviews with police, the young men all implicated Diaz-Cruz in the arson, stating he was “ripping up the church by kicking windows and breaking them” as the five hung out and ate pizza. But then Diaz-Cruz allegedly stacked toilet paper in the middle of the downstairs room in a “very large pile.”

“Carlos then used his cigarette lighter to ignite the toilet paper on fire,” charging documents state. “[One young man] said he and the others yelled at Carlos to stop several times.”

And one teen even stomped the fire out multiple times before Diaz-Cruz allegedly prevailed and got the fire to quickly spread. Court documents state the suspect was irritated when his friends attempted to “thwart” his efforts.

All of the witnesses said they didn’t believe the crime was motivated by hate. Some say Diaz-Cruz was simply “being stupid” while others said they thought the suspect was “crazy” or “wasn’t right in the head.”

A few also reported to police they heard the suspect say he was going to “burn this s*** down,” referring to the mosque.

When investigators interviewed Diaz-Cruz, he was the only one of the five who indicated he didn’t want to talk to police. When an officer explained why he was there, Diaz-Cruz responded that “he didn’t have anything against God.”

According to court records, Diaz-Cruz has a violent criminal history. In 2017, he was convicted of second-degree assault, fourth-degree assault, first-degree theft and third-degree malicious mischief. In the second-degree assault case, “the defendant slashed a victim with a knife lacerating the victim’s left shoulder.” He served five months in jail for that crime.

Diaz-Cruz is scheduled to be arraigned for his arson charge on April 12.

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