Within hours of putting out a fire that severely damaged a Houston mosque on Christmas, investigators announced that they strongly suspected the blaze was the result of arson.
The announcement was hardly surprising given the string of crimes targeting mosques around the country this month, incidents that have ranged from shattered windows at a mosque in Florida to a firebombed mosque in California.
Bu this incident, police say, has a strange twist.
The man accused of starting it is not an outsider, but a well-known member of the congregation.
According to charging documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle, 37-year-old Gary Nathaniel Moore, a Houston resident, told investigators that he had attended Savoy Masjid for the past five years.
Moore was not a periodic attendee, but someone who came to the mosque five times each day, seven days a week.
Moore was arrested on Wednesday and his bond was set at $100,000, Nicole Strong, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabacco, Firearms and Explosives told the Chronicle.
Moore has been charged with arson and his motive remains unknown, the paper reported. Nobody was injured in the blaze, which occurred an hour after hundreds of worshipers had been inside Savoy Masjid for Friday prayers, CBS-affiliate KHOU reported.
Investigators accuse Moore of setting fire to the mosque in five locations throughout the building, according to ABC-affiliate KTRK.
The station also reported:
Police allege during a search of Moore’s home that they recovered a backpack and clothing that appeared to be the same items seen in the surveillance video from the time of the fire, court records show.
Police also say they found a single charcoal lighter — which appears to have been sold as a pair — at Moore’s home. In addition, they allege a charcoal lighter found at scene matched the one found at Moore’s home using markers and stamped numbers on the containers, records show.
Moore told police he showed up at the mosque on Friday to pray and was the last person to leave the building, the Chronicle reported. He told investigators he was the last person out the building and saw no signs of a fire as he left. He said he found out about the blaze from a friend, prompting him to return to the scene, the paper reported.
MJ Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which operates the mosque, told the Chronicle he doesn’t know Moore.
“We are just looking into it ourselves,” he said Wednesday morning after learning of the arrest.”We are really very surprised and saddened by this whole thing,” said Khan.