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Fire guts mosque

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Flames destroyed a notable Bronx mosque on Thursday, September 17. Between 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. a fire erupted at the Islamic Cultural Center on E. 166th Street, the same Islamic Cultural Center where thousands of West Africans mourned in 2007.

Then, members of the mosque mourned the loss of ten Malian immigrants to a house fire in Highbridge. The Islamic Cultural Center, founded by Gambian immigrants, is a hub for eight additional mosques and the heart of the Bronx’s substantial West African community.

No one was hurt in the E. 166th Street fire and the Islamic Cultural Center was insured. The cause of the fire is under investigation. Fire marshals suspect that wires in the ceiling of the mosque basement ignited.

It took several hours to contain the blaze and three firefighters sustained minor injuries. The fire obliterated most of the one-story mosque, an office, a restaurant and a grocery store, all owned by the Islamic Cultural Center.

Members of the mosque were on E. 166th Street and heard a crash inside the store, said Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, a Muslim leader. On guard against a burglar, they rushed to the window and spotted flames, then rushed to warn mosque members inside.

“The store and mosque were gutted,” Drammeh said.

Members of the Islamic Cultural Center cleared debris on Friday, September 18 and celebrated the end of Ramadan on Sunday, September 20, in front of the mosque.

Before the fire, there had been plans to build a second floor and open a daycare center. Books and heirlooms from Africa burned, Drammeh said. But the sadness on September 20 paled in comparison to that felt in 2007, he explained.

“The loss of a building is nothing and to be expected,” Drammeh said. “The loss of a life is so much worse.” Bourema Niambele, a Malian leader, thanked the Fire Department and Police Department. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. stopped at the mosque on the morning of September 18, Niambele said.

Members of the mosque plan to raise money and rebuild. To donate, visit www.markazsaqafi.org.

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