A man who was charged with setting fire to a Houston mosque on Christmas Day is a devout Muslim who said he worshipped there for years, authorities said Wednesday.
Gary Nathaniel Moore, 37, of Houston, was arrested early Wednesday morning, and appeared in court 7 a.m. that day for the Dec. 25 fire. U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent Nicole Strong said they don’t know a motive but added there’s no evidence that it was a hate crime, The Associated Press reported.
It took about 80 firefighters to put out the two-alarm blaze, which caused major damage at the storefront mosque in Savoy Plaza, near Wilcrest Drive and West Bellfort, the Houston Chronicle reported. Court records said an investigation found five different points of origin, and a container of charcoal lighter, AP reported.
Mr. Moore, who was interviewed at the scene, said he’d been a member of the mosque for about five years and came to pray there five times a day, seven days a week.
He told investigators that he believed he was the last person to leave the mosque at about 2 p.m. and didn’t smell or see any signs of a fire. He said he returned to the scene after hearing about the fire from another mosque member, AP reported.
According to court records, Mr. Moore was identified from surveillance video quickly walking away from the mosque at about 2:39 p.m. and smoke could be seen coming from the mosque about three minutes later, AP reported.
Authorities served a search warrant at his home, recovering a backpack with items and clothing that seemingly matched what was in the surveillance footage and recovered at the scene, the Chronicle reported.
Despite Mr. Moore’s claim of being a member of the mosque, MJ Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which operates the mosque, said he’s never heard of him.
“We are just looking into it ourselves,” Mr. Khan told the Chronicle. “We are really very surprised and saddened by this whole thing.”
Bond for Mr. Moore has reportedly been set at $100,000.