Friday, June 23, 2017

Texas man charged with hate crime for burning mosque

The Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas was completely destroyed by the alleged arsonist.

A FEDERAL GRAND JURY in Victoria, Texas, has returned a three-count superseding indictment against Marq Vincent Perez, 25, for allegedly burning down the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28, 2017.

I'm not sure why they had to have a grand jury to figure out torching a mosque was a hate crime, but maybe Texans just want to make doubly sure.

Acting U.S. Attorney Abe Martinez made the announcement along with a bevy of local and federal law enforcement agencies Thursday, June 22.

"Intentionally defacing, damaging or destroy a house of worship, such as the mosque here, is a federal crime," said Martinez. "Such crimes will not be tolerated."

Perez was previously indicted for possession of an unregistered destructive device for an incident that occurred on Jan. 15, 2017. The superseding indictment returned today, June 23, 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.

Perez was initially arrested and charged March 3, 2017, 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, 2017, burglary of the Victoria Islamic Center as well as a Jan. 28, 2017, burglary and arson of the same mosque. Perez is in custody pending further criminal proceedings. 

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 $250,000 penalty.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless convicted through due process of law.

ATF and FBI conducted the investigation along with the City of Victoria Fire Marshal’s Office, Victoria Fire Department, Victoria Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety - Criminal Investigations Division and Texas Rangers with assistance of Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office and sheriff’s offices in Victoria and Nueces Counties. 

Martinez said his district, the southern District of Texas, which includes the city of Houston and Brownsville, has the second largest Islamic population in the U.S., second only to Lansing, Michigan.

The alleged hate crime occurred a week after Donald Trump was installed as President and was cited by media as an example of the growing Islamaphobia in the country. Trump critics claim the rise in anti-Muslim acts are due to the anti-Muslim rhetoric employed by Trump and his campaign.

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.