The fire was set in the
prayer room. Damage from smoke and water used to extinguish the September,
2012, blaze caused the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo to stay closed until
spring of 2013.
4/5/2015 - Updated: 18 minutes ago
Mosque arsonist asks Toledo Muslims for forgiveness
Indiana man set fire to Islamic Center in Perrysburg Township
BY TK BARGER
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
For Randy Linn, nearly two years into a prison sentence for torching the prayer room at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, forgiveness from mosque members would bring real peace of mind.
When his apology letter from a California prison arrived at the Perrysburg Township house of worship in December, it took the Islamic Center’s council President Cherrefe Kadri weeks to summon the right words to respond.
“It looks like hatred is alive and doing well throughout the world,” the letter begins. (The spelling and grammar are as he wrote it.) “As I sit here in prison wondering three years later, what in the world was I thinking Sept. 30 — 2012.”
Linn’s letter ends, “Well again, I’m very sorry for what I did. Hopefully someday you all can forgive me. And yes I don’t like it here, you can tell everyone, that I’m sure will put a smile on everyone face.”
For its part, Ms. Kadri said, the community has moved on from the September, 2012, attack. They’ve forgiven Linn, even if not everyone believes his letter is a genuine apology.
// “I truly believe that forgiveness is for the victim, not the perpetrator,” Ms. Kadri wrote, adding that “forgiveness is in God’s jurisdiction.”
Linn is at the FCI Victorville Medium II prison in Victorville, Calif., from where the 54-year-old Indiana man sent the handwritten apology letter, in block print on yellow legal-pad paper.
He was sentenced April 16, 2013, in line with the terms of a plea agreement, to 20 years in prison and ordered to pay more than $1.4 million in restitution to the mosque and its insurance company. Linn had pleaded guilty to one count each of intentionally defacing, damaging, and destroying religious property; using fire to commit a felony, and using and carrying a firearm to commit a crime of violence.
“I had an inmate read [the letter], see what he thought of it,” Linn said by phone to The Blade. “I’m not the best at writing letters. He was a preacher out on the ‘out,’ and he says, ‘It seems like a good letter.’ He says, ‘You’re just explaining yourself.’ I said, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do. Does the way I word it and everything sound all right?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’ And I asked him, I said, ‘Do you think I’ll get a response back or not?’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, you should.’ ”
Ms. Kadri says she “let [the letter] sit for a good five, six weeks before I responded to it, but his comments were interesting. I think his letter was truly sincere, and I told him that.”
She accepted his apology “on behalf of the Islamic Center community,” she wrote in her reply.
Ms. Kadri, an attorney, also wrote, “Trust me that no one is smiling knowing that you don’t like it in prison. As I said to you in court, we are hurt that someone would hate us that badly without knowing anything about us.”
Linn said what Ms. Kadri said in court has proved true.
“Everything she said at the sentencing, I mean, it kind of, like, haunts me,” he said. “It’s like she knew exactly what was going to happen, you know? How I was going to feel being locked up. It’s like she already knew ahead of time what I was going to pay — which I have paid a lot.”
He said: “I keep thinking about what she said, that I hurt myself and my family worse than I did them. ... Everything she said is true.”
Loss and gain
“I lost everything,” Linn wrote in his letter.
“It was very stupid what I did, very, very stupid,” he said by phone.
He contacts his son and his mother, but “my wife, she left me. She filed for divorce the day I did it, and I haven’t talked to her. I’ve never talked to her since. She doesn’t want anything to do with me. My mom did tell me that she went to the mosque, I guess, like, a year ago, but I don’t know what that was about.”
When he was arrested, Linn lived in St. Joe, Ind., and worked in Fort Wayne.
Ms. Kadri said Linn has a “nice family.”
“His wife, who divorced him early on, has visited us. She attended court hearings, and we sat together and we cried together, and she visited afterward,” she said.
To have forgiveness from the people at the Islamic Center would “probably give me a little bit of peace of mind,” Linn said, “knowing what I did wasn’t really something that I normally would do to anybody. That’s not my nature normally. I was the type of guy to help people out and stuff instead of doing what I did.
“[Forgiveness would] make me, probably, I don’t know, feel better in my heart, knowing that they’re forgiving me. It’s terrible what I did.”
After Linn set fire to the prayer room, the emergency sprinkler system activated, causing water damage to the entire building. The Islamic Center, which was insured, could not be used for about six months during repairs.
No real apology?
Dr. Mahjabeen Islam, a physician in Perrysburg, was president of the Islamic Center council when Linn set the fire. She agrees with Ms. Kadri’s words of forgiveness on behalf of the Islamic Center community but, in her view, “It’s not really a true letter of apology.”
When Linn’s letter was read to her, Dr. Islam gave some context before she responded.
A mosque in Joplin, Mo., had been burned to the ground Aug. 6, 2012, allegedly by an arsonist.
The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo had received a threatening letter, translated into Arabic using a computer application, Dr. Islam said.
“We had a suspicious person who entered the Ramadan Ishtar [end of holy month celebration], and he had a knife, and I had him removed,” Dr. Islam said. “Hate crimes had really spiked.”
So, in Dr. Islam’s view, Linn’s action followed a reactionary trend.
His own religion was not a factor, Linn asserted. He is Christian, a Jehovah’s Witness, and he attends the two weekly meetings in his facility.
When asked if he thinks God will forgive him, he said, “I hope so.”
“I really didn’t have anything against them” at the Islamic Center, he told The Blade. “It was more that I was in the military and, like the letter says, all of this stuff built up in me, and at the time, being drunk and the medication I was on, Prozac, which you’re not supposed to be drinking on top of it, it just made me basically flip out, and I just wanted to let them know.”
He cited several terror incidents as factors. The first was the bombing of a U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut in 1983, which happened when Linn was a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., “not too far from where I’m at right now,” he said in the interview. The second was Sept. 11, 2001, which involved plane hijackings and crashes damaging the Pentagon and leveling World Trade Center buildings in New York City, and what is thought to be the crashing of a hijacked plane near Shanksville, Pa., by passengers.
And he referred to four Americans murdered in Benghazi, Libya, in two Sept. 11, 2012, incidents. He used the words “Islamic terrorist” to refer to Beirut and Benghazi. He wrote, “I guess the only way I think was, I was getting even.”
Dr. Islam reacted strongly to Linn’s link of terrorism to the Islamic religion and, as Dr. Islam said he claimed in court, that Linn was “so inflamed by all the stuff that Fox News was spewing out that he stood up, got in his car, and came to the Islamic Center and did the crime.”
Ms. Kadri’s written response to Linn said, “Time away allows one to think and reflect. It sounds like the clarity of your reflection is enhanced by sobriety. Drugs and alcohol are harmful each on their own; but in combination, they are destructive. They laid claim to your decision-making and your life.”
In his letter, Linn wrote, “Yes, I know none of you have anything to do with what I was experiencing in my life. You are all Americans just like me. I just got mixed up at the time and I’m very sorry for all the damage I have done to your beautiful mosque.”
Ms. Kadri said that most people who go to the mosque don’t know Linn’s name, and she said that indicates they’ve forgiven him. “They’re really not focused on Mr. Linn as much as they are on the community,” she said.
A call to forgive
The Toledo-area Islamic community has changed since the 2012 fire.
With the Perrysburg mosque closed for repairs until spring 2013 and meeting in alternative sites, some worshipers went to other mosques. One new mosque, the Islamic Society of Northwest Ohio, 1036 Holland-Sylvania Rd., Toledo, held its first formal prayer services on March 20 with the former spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, Imam Farooq Abo Elzahab, in the minbar or pulpit.
While the governing body of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo chose to let justice take its course for Linn without asking for a longer or shorter sentence, Imam Farooq had other thoughts. He said he let the board know that “if it is in my hand, I would go to the court and beg the judge to release him,” to show forgiveness if Linn showed remorse. “I said, ‘This is the time to show what we believe in, what we stand for.’ ”
Linn said he wasn’t aware of that and added, what “I did was terrible, and I’ve got to pay for what I done.”
Linn entered the mosque with more than matches, Dr. Islam said.
“When you view the [video] footage, in the Islamic Center he was armed,” she said. The mosque’s treasurer had left early, and Dr. Islam and three other women were at the Islamic Center shortly before he arrived. “If he was there when we were there, and he was armed, he would have killed or injured, for sure,” especially considering his use of alcohol and Prozac.
“That’s a question I think about every night,” Linn said. “I ask myself, ‘What made me do what I did?’ And would I have [used the gun]? Honestly, I would be lying if I said one way or the other. I’m not really sure myself what would have happened. I’m glad it turned out no one got hurt.”