VICTORIA, Texas (AP) — A man has been indicted on a hate crime charge for a January fire that destroyed a Texas mosque, authorities announced on Thursday.
Marq Vincent Perez is accused by federal prosecutors of starting a Jan. 28 fire that destroyed the Islamic center in his hometown of Victoria, located 125 miles southwest of Houston.
Perez, 25, was indicted on two counts on Thursday: hate crime-damage to religious property and use of a fire to commit a federal felony.
He had previously been indicted for possession of an unregistered destructive device for an unrelated incident in which he is accused of trying to set fire to a former friend’s car on Jan. 15.
If convicted of the hate crime charge, the most serious count, Perez could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.
Perez’s attorney, Mark Di Carlo, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment.
Perez has remained jailed without bond since being arrested in March on the charge unrelated to the mosque fire.
During a court hearing in that case, prosecutors went into details about the mosque fire, alleging Perez believed the mosque’s worshippers were terrorists and may have been looking for other mosques to target.
At that hearing, Rick Miller, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified an informant told authorities that he took part in burglarizing the mosque with Perez on Jan. 22 and 28.
The informant said Perez “hated” Muslims and that Perez had claimed they broke into the mosque to see if its members were hiding weapons there, Miller testified.
The Texas office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it welcomed the hate crime charge against Perez.
The organization hopes “it sends a strong message to anyone contemplating attacking a house of worship. We thank state and federal law enforcement authorities for their diligence in investigating and prosecuting this case,” said Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of CAIR’s Houston office.
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