A man suspected of burning the Victoria Islamic Center is a homegrown product with an apparent hatred of Muslims, according to testimony Thursday in federal court.
News of the arrest is allowing congregation members to start to shake off the fear that has pervaded their lives, mosque spokesman Abe Ajrami said.
“This incident really shook us to the core,” Ajrami said at a news conference at the site of the burned mosque. “I hope people understand that this is not something we watched on TV or read in the newspaper. This is something we lived daily.”
Prosecutors presented evidence Thursday alleging Victoria resident Marq Vincent Perez, 25, burglarized the mosque twice in January and set the building on fire the second time. A March 3 raid on Perez’s North Jecker Street home recovered homemade explosive devices and electronics reported stolen from the mosque.
After the fire was ruled an arson in early February, investigators have searched for the person or people responsible. Before Perez’s arrest, investigators have held back from describing the arson as a hate crime.
“If you ask our honest opinion, we were hoping that a miracle would happen and this would not be a hate crime,” Ajrami said.
Despite Perez’s lack of a criminal record, a federal judge ultimately found him to be a “serious danger” to the community and likely to flee if released, ordering him kept in U.S. Marshals’ custody.
Perez is charged with the possession of a destructive, incendiary device. That sole charge stems from a Jan. 15 incident in which Perez is suspected of attempting to set a car on fire by igniting fireworks taped together. A confidential informant who admitted to burglarizing the mosque Jan. 22 and 28 with Perez also identified Perez as the arsonist, special agent Rick Miller of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives testified Thursday.