Muslim woman says house fire is a hate crime

ST. LOUIS – Another Muslim family in St. Louis has come forward to say they are the victims of a hate crime.

Two weeks ago, NewsChannel Five told you about an Arab family on Zellie Avenue that said they were the victims of repeated aggression and harassment because of their faith.

Now, a Bosnian Muslim woman and her father from the same street claim someone motivated by Islamophobia intentionally burned down their new home.

“I was really excited. It was my first home,” said victim Marizela Ekic. “It was a big project my father and I were starting.”

Ekic said during a news conference on Wednesday that she and her father purchased the home at 8025 Zellie in late August, but she said within days of the sale closing, someone lit it on fire and caused so much damage the city now wants her to tear it down.

Ekic was joined by leaders of the Missouri chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations to urge police to investigate the fire as a hate crime.

“There’s an arsonist on the loose. There’s an arsonist on the loose,” said Faizan Syed, the executive director of the Missouri chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

“And he’s hanging out in his house. And I can’t hang out in mine,” Ekic added.

The group said they believe the home and the family were targeted by an arsonist.

They said surveillance footage from a neighbor’s security camera shows what appears to be a suspicious man leaving the house right after the fire began.

They also said the incident is another example of alleged discrimination toward Muslim families living on the block.

“We are disturbed that this is the second complaint of apparent Muslim bias rising out of this very street that we’ve received just this month,” said Robert West, an attorney with the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Ekic said she’d like local authorities to take her case more seriously, claiming she had to go out of her way to get information she believes should be provided for her.

She worries the escalating behavior on the block will get worse.

“I don’t know if I feel safe or protected by the justice here in St. Louis,” she said.

St. Louis Police said there was a suspected arson at the home in question in May, months before Ekic purchased the property.

Ekic said damage from that fire was minimal and the primary reason why she and her father got a good deal on the house from the bank.

As for the August fire, police and fire officials said the cause was undetermined. Ekic said there were no utilities working at the time because it had been vacant for three years.

She said because of the time of the sale closing, she was unable to obtain insurance. The Council on American Islamic Relations has established a GoFundMe page to assist her.

St. Louis Police said they are aware of the neighborhood conflicts and that a district captain is working to schedule a meeting to help resolve the issue.

A spokeswoman said if they find a hate crime was committed, they would work to get justice for the victims.

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