Federal investigators are investigating a string of fires at black churches in the US – at least three of which have been named as arson.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are involved in the investigation into the incidents — though the FBI says it’s too soon to tell if they’re at all connected. The churches targeted have majority black congregations.
“They’re being investigated to determine who is responsible and what motives are behind them,” FBI spokesperson Paul Bresson told BuzzFeed News. “I’m not sure there is any reason to link them together at this point.”
The probe into the fires comes days after Dylann Roof was charged with nine counts of murder over the deaths of nine people shot and killed on June 17 at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The outcry over the deaths has seen a campaign to remove the Confederate flag – seen by many as symbolising racism and which Mr Roof posed with in photographs – gather pace.
Six churches have burned in the past week, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre. Three of them have been certified as being acts of arson. While investigators are still probing a possible link, the SPLC said the incidents may not be a coincidence.
The College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. was set ablaze on June 22, along with a church van outside of the building. Investigators suspect it was arson, though one local report said was not being investigated as a hate crime.
Church sources told WTLV that hay bales were heaped up by a church entrance then set alight, eventually engulfing the building.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, God’s Power Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia, was also set ablaze.
Authorities told the Macon Telegraph the attack looks like arson, though tests are still being carried out to discover how the fire stared.
In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Briar Creek Road Baptist Church started burning around 1am Wednesday
Fire authorities are sure that blaze was arson as well, though they have not revealed their evidence.
Despite the huge damage to the building, congregants had returned by Sunday to worship at the site.
Also on Wednesday, the Fruitland Presbyterian Church in Gibson County, Tennessee, caught fire. According to local news station WBBJ, fire investigators there are keeping open the possibility of arson.
Friday morning saw the Glover Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Warrenville, South Carolina, catch fire as well.
Authorities there have yet to announce whether the fire was arson.
The College Heights Baptist Church in Elyria, Ohio, also caught fire on Saturday and authorities are investigating.
The Lorain Morning Journal said churchgoers held hands and prayed in the building’s car-park on Sunday while the building remained unusable.
A seventh church, the Greater Miracle Temple in Tallahassee, Florida, also caught fire on Friday. But the WTXL news station said the fire was probably caused when a tree fell onto power lines
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