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More than $900,000 raised to rebuild fire-ravaged Texas mosque

By Curtis Skinner

(Reuters) - More than $900,000 has been raised in an online fundraiser for a south Texas mosque destroyed by fire over the weekend, exceeding the amount needed to rebuild the place of worship, according to the fundraising page on Monday.

The GoFundMe page for the Victoria Islamic Center received donations from more than 19,000 people in the two days after the mosque, about 125 miles (200 km) southwest of Houston, was gutted by flames early on Saturday.

The blaze has been classified as "suspicious," said Victoria city spokesman O.C. Garza.

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"Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the tremendous support we've received," mosque leaders said in a statement on the online fundraising page. "The outpouring of love, kind words, hugs, helping hands and the financial contributions are examples of the true American Spirit."

The fire broke out just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order last Friday that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the country for several months on national security grounds.

Authorities have found no evidence linking the fire with the order.

The fire was reported around 2 a.m. on Saturday, according to Garza. By the time firefighters reached the scene, "flames were already coming through the roof, so we went into containment mode to stop it from spreading," he said.

The building was so badly burned that only the exterior walls of the mosque withstood the blaze, Garza said.

State fire officials, as well as agents with the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, are investigating. Garza said it would likely take weeks before a cause could be determined.

Muslims in the United States have expressed fears of growing Islamaphobia in the country amid concerns about white nationalist rhetoric against the religion.

In Canada, a French-Canadian man is suspected of entering a Sunday prayer service at a Quebec City mosque and opening fire on congregants, killing six people and injuring 17.

Garza said city building officials had met with mosque leaders, who are planning to demolish the ruins and rebuild at the same site.

He said there had been an outpouring of support for the mosque, adding about 500 people showed up for a prayer service there on Sunday.

"They've been an outstanding member of our community," Garza said.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney)