A Victoria man charged with possession of fire-starting devices has been linked by federal authorities to a devastating mosque blaze earlier this year that shook the community.

Marq Vincent Perez, 25, burglarized the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 22 and then again on Jan. 28, when he started the fire that caused widespread damage to the facility, authorities told a federal judge Thursday in Corpus Christi.

He has not been charged in the mosque fire, but U.S. Magistrate Judge B. Janice Ellington said evidence of his involvement in a “hate crime” contributed to her decision to hold him without bond pending further proceedings.

Perez was charged last week for possession of a destructive device after he allegedly taped together multiple fireworks in an attempt to start a car fire on Jan. 15, according to a statement from the U.S.Attorney’s office.

Defense attorney Mark Di Carlo said the accusations are “speculation” and “hearsay.”

“We dispute the charges,” Di Carlo said.

But the magistrate judge disagreed.

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“The evidence against the Defendant is substantial, and the testimony of ATF Agent Miller was unrefuted; therefore the court finds the testimony credible,” Ellington said.

“Even though the Defendant has no criminal history, the testimony of his involvement in a hate crime presently being investigated, the retaliatory nature of the facts surrounding his possession and use of an unregistered destructive device …demonstrate that he represents a serious danger to the community.”

Shahid Hashmi, the mosque’s president, offered a bittersweet take on the arrest.

“We are happy that somebody got arrested and hopefully they have evidence to charge him at a later time,” he said. “Obviously, we are sad that this was one of our community members in Victoria. Everybody else has been so good.”

M.J. Khan of the Greater Houston Islamic Society said he was pleased to know a suspect had been detained, but cautioned the community against convicting him in the court of public opinion.

“It would be wrong for us to jump to conclusions or create any kind of biases in our minds about this person,” he said.

The Jan. 28 fire that destroyed the only mosque in Victoria was officially ruled arson last month, although federal investigators previously said evidence did not point to a hate crime.

A convenience store clerk first spotted the flames around 2 a.m. that Saturday. By the time crews put out the blaze, the 17-year-old building’s beautiful gold dome lay in ruins.

In the aftermath, the Victoria community rallied around the small congregation.

A GoFundMe campaign brought in nearly $1 million in the first two days after the tragedy.

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“Today, our faith in humanity has been rekindled again,” the Victoria Islamic Center wrote on Facebook at the time.

The Muslim community responded with understanding.

“Individually, in our heart of hearts, we have forgiven him,” Hashmi said, before any arrests were made.

The Victoria fire came on the heels of a nationwide uptick in hate crime in the immediate aftermath of the November election.

The same month, a Muslim business owner in Galveston found the front of his restaurant smeared with bacon grease, in an apparent affront to a religion that requires adherents to abstain from pork products.

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Then, just after the start of the new year, a mysterious blaze razed a mosque in the Lake Travis area, although it’s still not clear what sparked that conflagration.

And this isn’t the first time the Victoria Islamic Center has fallen prey to crime.

A week before the January fire, a burglar looted the mosque’s electronics. And a few years ago, a vandal painted “H8” – shorthand for “hate” – on the side of the building.

“We have to take these things seriously,” Khan said after Thursday’s news. “If it is a hate crime, label it as a hate crime so that people can learn lessons from it.”

Among those lessons, he said, are that tragedy “really teaches us to be forgiving.”

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