Man Charged with Setting Houston Mosque Fire Says He Was a Devout Attendee

Carol Christian and Leah Binkovitz, Chron, December 30, 2015

A Houston man has been arrested in connection with a suspected arson at a mosque on Christmas Day, but the motive for the crime remains a mystery, with the suspect maintaining he was a regular at the mosque.

A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that the suspect, 37-year-old Gary Nathaniel Moore of Houston, was arrested early Wednesday. Moore appeared in court at 7 a.m., spokeswoman Nicole Strong said, and bond was set at $100,000.

Gary Nathaniel Moore

Gary Nathaniel Moore

According to a charging instrument released by the Harris County District Clerk, Moore told investigators at the scene that he has attended the storefront mosque for five years, coming five times per day to pray seven days per week.

Moore said he had been at the mosque earlier on Dec. 25 to pray, and had left at about 2 p.m. to go home, according to authorities and court papers. Moore said he was the last person to leave the mosque and saw no smoke or other signs of fire when he departed, authorities said. He maintained he had returned to the scene after hearing about the fire from a friend.

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Using surveillance video from multiple businesses nearby, investigators were able to identify Moore, according to records. A search warrant of his home was conducted, and investigators recovered a backpack and clothing similar to that which was seen in surveillance footage, as well as half of a two-pack of charcoal lighter-fluid bottles that seemed to match another lighter fluid bottle found inside the mosque.

A team of 30 investigators worked around the clock investigating the cause of the fire, which was found to have multiple points of origin. {snip}

{snip} Moore was charged with first-degree arson, a felony. A motive has not been determined.

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U.S. Reps. Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee said the quick response of the firefighters on Christmas was evidence of the city’s dedication to protecting the community.

“If this was not a hate crime, it should not be exploited as such,” said Green. “If it was, it should be exposed.”

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It took about 80 firefighters to put out the two-alarm blaze at the storefront mosque in Savoy Plaza, near Wilcrest Drive and West Bellfort.

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