February 3, 2006

Arson suspected in Alabama church fires

By Peggy Gargis

CENTREVILLE, Alabama (Reuters) - Three Baptist churches in
central Alabama were destroyed and two others were badly
damaged in a series of fires that police were investigating as
arson on Friday.

Fires broke out at five churches -- all within about 10
miles of each other in Alabama's Bibb County south of
Birmingham -- between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. on Friday. Another
church building was damaged by fire in neighboring Chilton
County on Thursday.

No motive was known and FBI agent Charles Regan said the
agency was investigating whether civil rights violations were

"We're looking at it to make sure this is not a hate
crime," Regan said.

One of the churches, Pleasant Sabine, has a predominantly
black congregation and the others had mostly white

"It is an arson because someone has burned down buildings
but because we don't have all of the evidence we're still
considering what the charges will be," Andrew Arrington, an
assistant district attorney, said from the courthouse in
Centreville, the Bibb County seat.

Local radio said a volunteer fireman was injured in one of
the fires.

State fire marshals, sheriffs, prosecutors and the federal
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also were

"We have had hundreds of people calling in with tips,"
state Fire Marshal Richard Montgomery said. "We're following up
on all leads. Some of those we have already determined that we
can discount."

The Ashby Baptist Church in the community of Brierfield was
engulfed in flames when emergency workers arrived and was one
of the three destroyed.

"We don't have any idea why anyone would want to do this.
It makes me feel empty inside," said longtime parishioner Sonya

"The building is gone but our church is still all around