Posted Feb. 9, 2006 – Who would burn up Baptist churches in Alabama and what could possibly be the motive?
Federal and state investigators say they believe the fires were motivated by hate and announced Thursday that they are searching for two men they believe are behind the torchings of nine rural Alabama churches.
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Spotted in an SUV
The two White males were reportedly last spotted in a dark-colored SUV, possibly a Nissan Pathfinder or Chevrolet Trailblazer, near five church fires in Bibb County, just south of Birmingham, last Friday, the Montgomery Advertiser reported. Three of those churches were destroyed.
Just three days earlier, about 60 miles away, four other churches were burned to the ground.
"Since churches are targeted, obviously there's a religious theme here," said Thomas Ahern of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the federal agency that investigates arson.
The fires were usually set in the early-morning hours in isolated areas, and by the time firefighters arrived at most of the scenes, the churches were completely engulfed in flames, Reuters reported. Investigators told reporters that in some cases, the doors had been kicked in and the pulpits were set on fire.
Hundreds of Leads
"Obviously, somebody or somebodies are interested in burning down churches, whether it's hate against a race or a religion in general, we don't know," State Assistant Insurance Commissioner Ragan Ingram told CNN.
Some of the Baptist churches, which is the main denomination in the region, had majority-White congregations and some had majority Black congregations, The Associated Press reported.
More than 50 federal agents have been assigned to the fire investigations.
ATF officials say the agency is investigating “literally hundreds of leads” and several possible motives.
"This is our No. 1 priority nationally," Rich Marianos, an ATF spokesman said.
The ATF is offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.
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