A man who was charged with arson in a Christmas Day fire at a Houston mosque told an investigator he worshipped there, authorities said Wednesday.
Gary Nathaniel Moore, 37, of Houston, was arrested Wednesday morning, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent Nicole Strong. She said that officials don't have a motive for the crime but added that there is no evidence it was a hate crime. He was being held without bond Wednesday. Court records didn't list an attorney for him.
The Islamic Center of Houston, which is in a strip mall, caught fire after Friday prayers, when it was mostly empty. No injuries were reported, but the fire caused major damage to the center.
A court document says that the investigation into the fire found five points of origin and a container of charcoal lighter fluid. Firefighters responded to the fire at 2:47 p.m. Dec. 25, and Moore was interviewed at the scene. According to the document, he said he has been a member of the mosque for about five years and went there to pray five times a day.
He told the fire investigator that he believed he was the last person to leave the mosque, at about 2 p.m., and didn't smell or see smoke. He said that another mosque member later called to tell him about the fire and he returned.
The court document states that Moore was identified from surveillance video quickly walking away from the mosque at about 2:39 p.m. and that smoke could be seen coming from the mosque about three minutes later.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise in the United States, stoked by recent ISIL-related attacks in France and California and anti-Muslim statements by Republican presidential hopefuls.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the scale of vandalism, damage and intimidation at U.S. mosques this year is the worst in the six years it has kept records.