JoLin Gardner places a bouquet of flowers on a pile of debris outside of Petra Restaurant on Friday. A prayer vigil was held outside of the restaurant on Friday, a couple of days after it was destroyed by fire and the words “Go Back” were spray-painted in the back of the building. Officials say the fire was intentionally set. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle
JoLin Gardner places a bouquet of flowers on a pile of debris outside of Petra Restaurant on Friday. A prayer vigil was held outside of the restaurant on Friday, a couple of days after it was destroyed by fire and the words “Go Back” were spray-painted in the back of the building. Officials say the fire was intentionally set. Travis Heying The Wichita Eagle

Crime & Courts

ATF: Restaurant fire was intentionally set, reward offered

By Katherine Burgess

kburgess@wichitaeagle.com

November 06, 2017 02:57 PM

UPDATED November 06, 2017 05:15 PM

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says the fire that burned down Petra Mediterranean Restaurant early Wednesday morning was intentionally set.

The bureau is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for starting the fire, according to a news release.

Spokesman John Ham said the bureau, in conjunction with the Wichita fire and police departments and the Kansas State Fire Marshal’s Office, ruled out natural or accidental causes of the fire.

If the investigation develops information indicating the fire was a hate crime, then the FBI will become more involved, Ham said.

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Owner Ranya Taha said she was told Friday that the fire was intentionally set.

“I had a feeling,” she said.

Taha and her husband Bashar Mahanweh have said they believe the arson may have been a hate crime, since the words “Go back” were found spray painted on a storage unit behind the restaurant.

Taha said she has experiences an abundance of community support, especially on Facebook and during a recent prayer vigil held outside the restaurant. About 60 people attended the vigil, saying prayers from different religious traditions and attempting to light candles in the damp weather.

“It was really cold, but the people made it really warm,” Taha said.

The Kansas Restaurant and Hospitality Association has made a $1,000 donation to Crime Stoppers. In a statement, CEO Adam Mills said the association “is one of opportunity and is the true embodiment of the American dream.”

“We are an industry rooted in diversity, and that has been particularly true here in Wichita for generations,” he said.

Anyone with information about the arson should contact ATF at 888-ATF-FIRE (888-283-3473), email ATFTips@atf.gov, contact ATF through its website at www.atf.gov/contact/atftips, or text 63975 using the code ATFKC. Tipsters can remain anonymous.

Prayer vigil held outside of restaurant that burned

A prayer vigil was held outside of the restaurant Petra near 21st and Woodlawn on Friday. The restaurant was destroyed in a fire earlier this week and the words “Go Back” were found spray-painted behind the building. The owners of Petra are from Syria and Jordan. The cause of the fire still has not been determined. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

theying@wichitaeagle.com

Hateful graffiti sprayed on back of restaurant that burned

Ranya Taha, the owner of Petra, talks about a fire that destroyed her family’s restaurant the night before. Some graffiti with the words “Go Back” were written on the back of the restaurant. Taha is from Syria and has lived in Wichita for 16 years. Investigators have not yet said what started the fire. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle)

theying@wichitaeagle.com

Katherine Burgess: 316-268-6400, @KathsBurgess