A suspect was taken into custody on Dec. 25 for allegedly setting fire to a southwest Houston mosque. The two-alarm blaze occurred around 2:30 P.M. on Christmas day, and was classified as “incendiary” by the city’s investigators.
37-year-old Gary Nathaniel Moore is being charged with felony arson after prosecutors said that surveillance cameras captured Moore leaving the storefront mosque a mere three minutes before flames consumed the building.
However, Moore claims that he has worshipped regularly at the mosque for the past five years.
According to investigators, Moore admitted that he had been praying at the mosque prior to the fire breaking out and that he was coincidentally the last to leave.
He asserts that there was no indication of a fire when he left that afternoon and that he only learned about it later from a friend.
M.J. Khan, the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), told the Houston Chronicle that everything inside the mosque was damaged, save for their copies of the Quran. Khan also encouraged community members not to engage in speculations about the cause of the fire, attempting to assuage their rising anxiety and concerns for safety.
According to a recent New York Times article, since the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris, hate-crimes against Muslims in the United States have increased three-fold, with another burst of attacks occurring after the San Bernardino shooting on Dec. 2.
Since Nov. 13, more than 38 attacks against Muslim people, businesses and institutions have been reported.
In Meriden, Conn., a mosque was shot at several times.
In Pflugerville, Texas, a mosque had feces flung at its front side and pages of the Quran — also covered in feces — strewn all over the ground.
In Philadelphia, Pa., a severed pig’s head was dumped at the front doors of the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society.
In Coachella, Calif., a mosque was firebombed.
In Dearborn, Mich.; St. Petersburg, Fla.; Fort Bend, Texas; Lexington, Ky. and many more cities, mosques received violent threats, some announcing plans to kill children and others threatening to damage community centers and mosques.
On Dec. 21, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) announced a series of initiatives to counter the rising climate of Islamophobia. Secretary General of USCMO Oussama Jammal said:
“[A] coalition of leading national and local Muslim organizations today announced major educational, outreach and civic empowerment initiatives to address growing Islamophobia in America and to enhance national security through the promotion of freedom and justice.”
The initiatives include a “One America” campaign that aims to foster greater understanding of Muslim Americans, a drive to register one million Muslim voters prior to the 2016 elections, and a “National Open Mosque Day” to help advance greater interaction between Muslim Americans and their communities.
The director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR)’s Texas branch, Mustafaa Carroll, urged authorities to investigate the Houston fire as a possible hate-crime, given the surge in similar attacks across the country. Carroll said on Friday, “Because of the recent spike in hate incidents targeting mosques nationwide, we urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for this fire.”
The motive for the attack is still unclear. Moore has since maintained his innocence.
Image: Screengrab from khou.com