Oct. 17 (UPI) -- A man convicted of burning down a Texas mosque in 2017 was sentenced to 24 years in prison Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Marq Perez, 26, was found guilty of a hate crime and use of fire to commit a federal felony in July for burning down the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28, 2017. Perez also was found to possess a unregistered destructive device for a separate but related incident that occurred on Jan. 15, 2017.
"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 prosecute," said John Gore, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.
Witness testimony revealed Perez conducted "recon" by breaking into the mosque a week before setting the fire and communicated with someone through Facebook about breaking in again the night of the fire.
He used a lighter to set papers on fire inside the mosque and witnesses said local law enforcement officers were unable to extinguish the blaze until it completely engulfed the mosque.
Testimony also stated Perez often used anti-Muslim slurs and sought out to burn down the mosque to "send a message."
The mosque received nearly $1 million in donations from about 20,300 people in less than three days to rebuild in the wake of the fire.
After learning of the donations, Perez told a witness he would burn down the mosque again if it was rebuilt.
"Mr. Perez sought to provoke terror within the tranquil space of the Victoria Islamic Center," FBI Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Edward Michel said. "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."