US man charged over mosque arson attack says he was a regular worshipper there

WASHINGTON (AFP) - A suspect charged over an arson attack on a Texas mosque told investigators he was a regular worshipper there, praying five times a day seven days a week, according to his charge sheet.

Houston resident 37-year-old Gary Nathaniel Moore was arrested on Wednesday (Dec 30) and appeared in the Harris County district court on a felony charge of arson, the Houston Chronicle reported.

According to the charge sheet, reproduced in the report, the suspect had been the last to leave the mosque at 2pm after prayers on Friday, Dec 25.

Moore said he had seen no smoke and only heard about the fire, which destroyed the interior of the small shopping mall mosque, from a friend, but investigators identified him from surveillance video.

When the police executed a search warrant at his home they found a container of charcoal lighter fluid matching another found at the scene and clothing matching the suspect's in the video.

Friday's mosque fire came just weeks after a young Muslim couple, apparently inspired by foreign militant groups, carried out a mass shooting in California that sparked fears of a backlash against members of their faith.

The suspect told investigators he had been a regular at the mosque for five years, but the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, Masrur Javed Khan, told the Chronicle he did not know him.

Separately, the FBI issued a US$5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of a suspect in another attack on a Muslim place of worship, this one in Las Vegas.

Surveillance images of the suspect in the Dec 27 attack show a man in a dark hat and jacket hanging bacon on the door handles of the Masjid-e-Tawheed mosque.