Texan man who burnt down mosque convicted

24th Aug 2018
Texan man who burnt down mosque convicted

Victoria Islamic Centre Texas rebuilt after the fire started by (inset) Marq Vincent Perez (Photo: Victoria Islamic Centre Texas Facebook)

Abdul Adil

A 26-year-old man was convicted by a federal jury of a hate crime on July 16 for burning down a mosque in Victoria, Texas, in January 2017.

Marq Vincent Perez was found guilty of the use of a fire to commit a felony and possession of an unregistered destructive device in an earlier incident, in addition to the hate crime, according to the Department of Justice.

A witness who had been with Perez on the night of the fire said Perez was so excited to see the Victoria Islamic Centre in flames burning to the ground that he was “jumping up and down like a little kid.”

Witnesses said that Perez had planned and scoped out the mosque in the days before the fire. Other witnesses said that Perez called Muslims “towelheads” and that his Facebook account was filled with Islamophobic messages.

Officials testified that items taken during two burglaries at the mosque were found at Mr Perez’s home in addition to “an improvised bomb similar to what was used in an attempted car-bombing approximately two weeks prior to the fire,” the Justice Department said.

“All people are entitled to live free from violence and fear, regardless of their religion or place of worship,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division said in the Justice Department’s statement. “Perez’s actions were criminal, unlawful, and dangerous. This Justice Department is committed to holding hate crimes perpetrators accountable under the law.”

Perez’s lawyer, Mark Di Carlo, said his client intends to appeal the verdict. “The statements made by the United States Attorney’s Office before the trial and after indicate that the case was handled as a political trial and not as a criminal trial,” he said in a statement. “These include statements that the trial was about ‘diversity’ and ‘equal protection for Muslims’ which were inappropriate.”

Di Carlo said that the evidence allowed before the jury had been “very limited” and that Perez’s Facebook posts were “often taken out of context.”

“While we are saddened by this hate-motivated crime against a house of worship, we are relieved that the arm of justice is long and bends toward what is right,” said Executive Director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations-Houston, Mustafaa Carroll. “We thank all law enforcement agencies, first responders, the Victoria community, and all those who helped their Muslim neighbours.”

Perez faces up to 20 years in federal prison for the hate crime and up to 10 for possessing an unregistered destructive device and a possible $250,000 fine. The sentence will take place on October 2.

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