The Department of Justice announced Wednesday that a Texas man would be serving almost 25 years in prison for burning down the Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas.
A jury found Marq Perez, 26, guilty of a hate crime on July 16 for his burning down of a mosque on Jan. 28, 2017.
He was also found guilty for the use of fire to commit a federal felony and for possessing an unregistered destructive device for a separate but related incident, the Department of Justice announced in a press release Wednesday.
“Everyone in this country has the right to worship freely without fear of violence,” said John Gore, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“This defendant terrorized the Muslim community in Victoria, and the Department partnered with federal, state, and local agencies to ensure that the person responsible for this heinous hate crime would be found and prosecuted,” Gore added.
Perez broke into the mosque a week before he set it on fire to do what he described as “recon.” (RELATED: Man Who Allegedly Tried To Burn Down Texas Mosque Faces Trial)
A witness present with Perez said in his testimony that Perez used a lighter to set papers on fire inside the religious building, adding that Perez looked “excited” as the building erupted in flames.
“Mr. Perez sought to provoke terror within the tranquil space of the Victoria Islamic Center,” said FBI ssistant Special Agent-in-Charge Edward Michel.
“By deliberately burning down this mosque, Mr. Perez attacked a specific religious congregation in the hope of spreading fear, conflict and depriving Victoria’s Islamic community of their peaceful and safe place to worship,” he said.
The witness claims Perez burned the mosque down to “send a message” to Muslims, and several other witnesses recalled Perez’s hatred toward the Muslim community and his use of Muslim slurs.
After law enforcement and firefighters could not contain the fire before the building nearly collapsed, the Victoria Islamic Center raised money to rebuild the mosque, to which witnesses claim Perez promised he’d burn that down too.
“Today’s sentencing illustrates that hate crimes will not be tolerated,” Michel said, adding that “No one in this country should feel afraid to openly practice their religion or express their beliefs.”
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