The suspect at the heart of the Islamic Center of the Eastside arson reportedly has a history of contentious interactions at the mosque — including a conviction for malicious mischief — but law enforcement officials are shying away from calling it a hate crime.
Isaac Wayne Wilson, 37, has been charged with arson and is being held in King County Jail on $1 million bail. He is believed to have acted alone when setting fire to the mosque on Jan. 14 and causing extensive damage.
Fire crews arriving at 14700 Main St. around 2:45 a.m. Saturday found 40-foot flames coming from the rear of the mosque, which has been a mainstay in Bellevue for decades. Wilson was located by police while laying in the mosque’s parking lot, reportedly watching the fire. He also told arresting officers “I did it,” according to charging documents.
Firefighters quickly deployed multiple hose lines and were able to extinguish the flames, according to Bellevue Fire spokesperson Ryan Armstrong. No firefighters or civilians were injured.
Thorough salvage operations were conducted to preserve holy books and electronic equipment in the building, according to the department.
The fire caused substantial damage to the mosque and is being investigated as an arson. Wilson reportedly smelled of gasoline and was carrying a lighter when he was found at the crime scene, according to court documents.
Officials say there is no indication it was an act of terrorism or linked to other anti-Muslim incidents on the Eastside. Investigators believe that he is the sole perpetrator based on Wilson’s statements, video footage and other evidence.
Members of law enforcement revealed at a press conference later that day that Wilson has an extensive criminal history and has had several run-ins at the mosque, including one within recent months for which he was arrested and sentenced to probation. However, both the police department and a representative from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office said that they are not comfortable calling it a hate crime at this time.
“At this point, we haven’t seen any evidence that this is a hate crime,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Mike Hogan said. “A hate crime is proven by words or actions that the perpetrator was targeting a community because of feelings of animosity towards them.”
Nor do investigators believe it was an act of terrorism. Because the arson occurred at a place of worship, Bellevue Police will be working with members of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during the investigation.
Wilson’s motive is unknown at press time.
During the December incident for which there was an arrest warrant out in his name, Wilson had told police he had schizophrenia, according to court documents. Imam Faizel stated during a community meeting on Jan. 15 that members of the mosque had tried to help Wilson and had offered to pay for his medications, as he was homeless.
Police Chief Steve Mylett said that he thought of the arson as an attack on the entire city.
“We view this as an attack on the entire Bellevue community … We will rebuild bigger and better. We are making a commitment today that the Bellevue Police Department will do everything to ensure this investigation is handled thoroughly, and the perpetrator is held responsible to the full extent of law.”
The Lake Hills-area arson is the latest in several incidents targeting Eastside Islamic organizations.
Last week, Kamal Samater, 36, was charged with felony harassment after threatening to kill a man and assassinate churchgoers at the Islamic Center of the Eastside. One of the alleged victims reported that Samater — who identifies as Muslim — was yelling, “I am going to assassinate you guys one by one.”
Last month, the newly-replaced sign outside of the Muslim Association of Puget Sound in Redmond was vandalized. It had been vandalized by an unidentified person in November 2016.
The Bellevue Police Department has spoken with members of the Redmond Police, and has determined there is no link between those incidents and the arson.
Islamic Center Imam Faizel told media that the worshipers are heartbroken, but thankful for the support they are getting from the community.
“I am very, very thankful to the police department, fire department, all of the organizations that were there, for the help they’re giving us. As a community, yes, we are heartbroken. I have been the imam of this mosque for 16 years, and never have we experienced anything like this. But, we are overwhelmed and we can never be grateful enough for the support we have been given from the community,” he said.
Many community members visited the arson site Saturday, some of them bringing donations. Mosque representatives reported that they received between $8,000 and $10,000 in cash the day of the fire.
While the investigation continues, the mosque is working with the Highland Community Center and the city of Bellevue to establish a site to practice their daily worship. Arshad Ahmad, a member of the mosque’s Elders Council, said that he had received over 30 emails from people from other religious organizations nearby offering support and a place to worship.
An online fundraiser has also been started to help offset the cost of the fire damage and rebuild the mosque. While the man associated with the fundraiser did not respond to messages confirming his connection to the church, he wrote online that he had grown up attending the Islamic Center of the Eastside.
”The Islamic Center has been a part of our community for over 20 years, and it will continue to be part for many, many more years into the future, and a fire won’t stop that,” Bellevue Mayor John Stokes said.
A community meeting was held at Sammamish High School on Jan. 15 to discuss the fire and ways to support the community.