Houston mosque fire investigation turns up unlikely suspect

When a Christmas day fire broke out at a strip mall mosque in Houston Texas, the media was quick like a bunny to begin speculating on the “suspicious nature” of the fire and looking for a motive. CAIR was one of the first out of the gate to call it a hate crime. (NBC News)


The Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on authorities to investigate a possible bias motive in the case, citing what it called a “recent spike in hate incidents targeting mosques nationwide.

A mosque in Coachella, California, was damaged in an intentionally set fire on Dec. 11. A 23-year-old man was arrested and has been charged with a hate crime in that fire. Vandalized mosques have also been reported in Arizona and Georgia.

Thanks to some diligent work by the local authorities, the “mystery” may be close to being solved. A suspect has been taken into custody and some of the initial evidence has been released to the public. So who was this white supremacist, Trump loving hatemonger who would intentionally light up a house of worship? We won’t know until there’s either a confession or a conviction, but the suspect doesn’t seem to fit the initial profile.

A Houston man has been arrested in connection with a suspected arson at a mosque on Christmas Day, but the motive for the crime remains a mystery, with the suspect maintaining he was a regular at the mosque.

A spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that the suspect, 37-year-old Gary Nathaniel Moore of Houston, was arrested early Wednesday. Moore appeared in court at 7 a.m., spokeswoman Nicole Strong said, and bond was set at $100,000.

According to a charging instrument released by the Harris County District Clerk, Moore told investigators at the scene that he has attended the storefront mosque for five years, coming five times per day to pray seven days per week.


The local officials have only released one photo of the suspect thus far.


We should stress once again that Moore is still a suspect and this is an allegation, not a conviction at this point. The evidence the cops are offering may or may not hold up in court. It’s true that Moore admitted to being the last person to leave the mosque before the fire was detected, but said he saw no evidence of smoke or flames. Investigators found clothes and a backpack matching those worn by the person seen leaving the area on surveillance videos, but since Moore already said he was there, that’s not a surprise. They found a container of lighter fluid – part of a two pack – at his home which matched a container found at the scene of the fire, but I suppose it’s possible that’s just a coincidence.

What’s even more telling (and seemingly common when we cover incidents surrounding mosques in America) is that the local Muslim leadership seems curiously unaware of the man’s identity.

MJ Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which operates the mosque, said he was unfamiliar with Moore. “We are just looking into it ourselves,” he said Wednesday morning after learning of the arrest.

“We are really very surprised and saddened by this whole thing,” said Khan.

Funny how they don’t seem to know who Moore is. By his own admission he was not only there for prayer services on the day of the fire, but had been attending such services there five times per day for the last five years. Even if he missed the odd trip for reasons of illness or inclement weather, that’s more than 9,000 trips to the mosque. And looking at the photos of the strip mall mosque, it’s not that big of a space. How is it that nobody notices a guy who is practically living there for five years?


Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice once said from the other side of the looking glass. If Mr. Moore winds up being the guilty party, what explains his actions? If this wasn’t a fake hate crime, I suppose he might have had some sort of beef with the leadership or others in the community, but we won’t know until the investigation is complete. I’m sure there will be more details to come on this one, so stay tuned.

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