ATF: No racist motives seen in US church fires

2015-07-03 05:12
ATF investigators sift through ashes and charred debris inside the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church. (Veasey Conway, AP)

ATF investigators sift through ashes and charred debris inside the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church. (Veasey Conway, AP)

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Washington - Fires at six African-American churches in the southern United States do not appear to be linked or racially motivated, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said on Thursday.

Preliminary investigations point to three of the fires being accidental, with the cause of the other three still to be determined, ATF spokesperson Ginger Colbrun told AFP.

"At this time, there is no evidence that [the six fires] are linked or racially motivated," Colbrun said, stressing that investigations into all the incidents are still ongoing.

Fears that the church fires might have been racially motivated were prompted by the fact that they occurred in the wake of the June 17 killing of nine black worshippers at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The latest fire, on Tuesday, gutted Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal church in Greeleyville, about 100km north of Charleston.

The same church was set ablaze 20 years ago by two young Ku Klux Klan members who later pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges.

The ATF is spearheading the investigation into Tuesday's fire, which broke out shortly after lightning struck the Greeleyville area.

Other black churches struck by fire since June 22 were located in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and Florida, as well as a second church in South Carolina.

US news media have previously said at least three of the fires were possible acts of arson, and that a fourth involved a tree limb falling on power lines.

Tuesday's in Greeleyville erupted a few hours after the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) urged black churches nationwide to take "necessary precautions".

The hashtag #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches trended on Twitter, with some dreading a revival of a wave of church arsons that gripped the United States in the 1990s.

In a 2013 report, the National Fire Protection Association said 16% of the nearly 1 800 fires that break out at US places of worship and funeral homes every year are set intentionally.

Under the 1996 Church Arson Prevention Act, the ATF is tasked with investigating the origin and cause of all fires or bomb attacks that occur at houses of worship throughout the United States.

Read more on:    us  |  charleston shooting  |  racism

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