Texas man charged with hate crime for allegedly setting fire to mosque

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Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas was set on fire Jan. 28.  On June 22, a federal grand jury in Victoria indicted Marq Vincent Perez, 25, for allegedly burning the mosque. (Photo: Facebook)

A federal grand jury in Victoria, Texas has returned a three-count superseding indictment against Marq Vincent Perez, 25, for allegedly burning the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28.

Perez was previously indicted for possession of an unregistered destructive device for an incident that occurred on Jan. 15. The superseding indictment returned June 22, now charges him with a hate crime – damage to a religious property as well as use of a fire to commit a federal felony in relation to the arson at the mosque.

Initially, Perez was arrested and charged March 3, in connection with an attempt to blow up a car with a destructive device. At a detention hearing held the following week, court heard evidence linking Perez to a Jan. 22, burglary of the Victoria Islamic Center as well as a Jan. 28, burglary and arson of the same mosque. Perez is in custody pending further criminal proceedings, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney Office for the Southern District of Texas.

The story relating to this mosque’s burning appears to have inspired people in Texas and elsewhere. Support for rebuilding it grew as the mosque called for contributions. A June 17 report in Buzzfeed says $1 million has been raised to rebuild the mosque. After the burning, a Jan. 30, entry on the mosque’s Facebook page, by a  Silvia Bahjat had this to say, “There was good that came out of this. 4 Churches and Jewish Temple gave the keys to use their space until the mosque is rebuilt by many who donated money which they received in one day which is 1 Millions (sic) dollars. This show (sic) how great American (sic) are and we love everyone.”

In a statement posted on Facebook June 22, the Victoria Islamic Center said, “Federal indictment of hate crime against the Arsonist, Marq Perez, was announced in a press conference today. We wish him fair trial and pray for peace & tranquility for his family in this difficult time.”

If convicted, Perez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime. He also faces up to 10 years for possessing an unregistered destructive device. If convicted of use of a fire to commit a felony, the penalty is a consecutive and mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison. All of the counts also carry a potential $250,00 penalty.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sharad S. Khandelwal and Kate Suh are prosecuting the case along with Trial Attorney Saeed Mody of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, the press release said.