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Imam killed in Yermo house explosion

July 3, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Southern California religious leader is killed in a suspicious house fire. Now his family is calling it a hate crime and calling on the FBI to investigate.The man's body was found in a burned out home in Yermo in San Bernardino County, east of Barstow.

Racist vandalism was found inside of Ali Mohammed's Yermo home. The vandalism was the reason he and his family moved out. But last weekend, Mohammed had come back to clean it up. He was killed in an explosion.

Howard Smith, who lives across the street, was home at the time.

"Yeah I was sitting in the house having a beer, and I heard this explosion," said Smith. "I thought it was a sonic boom, but you don't hear that at night."

Smith says within minutes, the home was destroyed by fire. He says he doesn't want to believe the fire was intentionally set. But there are doubts, because something like this has happened before, more than two years ago.

The mosque Mohammed built on his property also burned to the ground. For that, two teenagers were arrested.

"Is it a pretty tolerant community would you say, or not so much?it comes and goes, there are times you just want to get the heck out of here, and other times it's quiet, just the way I like it."

The sheriff's department says it could take the arson and bomb unit several weeks to determine if this fire was intentionally set, and it could take even longer to tell is Mohammed was murdered. But it's something investigators say they're determined to find out."

"This is a very tragic situation for this family, they should know the investigators are working hard on this, determine the cause and the origin and do whatever is necessary," said Cindy Beavers, San Bernardino Sheriff's Department spokesperson.

Until then, it's unknown if this was a tragic accident, or arson and murder.

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