Man sentenced to 24 years in prison for Texas mosque fire

Prosecutors said that a ‘rabid hatred’ of Muslims led Marq Perez to set fire to an Islamic centre, destroying the building

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 12:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 October, 2018, 9:27pm

A man convicted of a hate crime in setting fire to a mosque in Texas was sentenced to more than 24 years in prison on Wednesday, US authorities said, adding he acted with hatred and malice.

Marq Perez, 26, set fire to the Victoria Islamic Centre, about 200km southwest of Houston in 2017. The crime was seen by Islamic rights groups as part of a growing wave of bigotry toward Muslims in the United States.

He was convicted in July for a hate crime in the burning of the Victoria Islamic Centre on January 28, 2017.

He was also convicted of the use of fire to commit a federal felony and possessing an unregistered destructive device for a separate but related incident, the US Department of Justice said.

At sentencing, Senior US District Judge John Rainey said hate crimes were “a cancer to our society” and “this conduct would not be tolerated in our society,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said.

He was sentenced to 24-1/2 years in prison.

During a week long trial in a federal court in Texas, prosecutors called the crime “a simple, straightforward case of hate,” the US attorney’s office said.

Lawyers for Perez said he did not set the fire and was with his newly born son when the building caught fire, the San Antonio Express-News reported from the courtroom.

“This defendant terrorised the Muslim community in Victoria,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement, adding, “everyone in this country has the right to worship freely without fear of violence”.

The mosque was rebuilt after a flood of donations came in to restore the facility.

When Perez learned the Victoria Muslim community had raised money to rebuild the mosque, he told a witness he would burn the mosque down again if it was rebuilt, the Department of Justice said.

Prosecutors said Perez broke into the mosque a week before the fire to survey the place.

In his arson attack, Perez placed papers inside the mosque and set them on fire with a lighter, a witness said, according to prosecutors.

Perez was initially arrested and charged in March 2017 in connection with an attempt to blow up a car, the Justice Department said. Evidence linking him to the mosque fire was later presented at a detention hearing.