Law enforcement officials are investigating nine fires that have occurred at rural churches in the southern state of Alabama during the past week. The fires have affected both white and black Baptist churches.
Nine churches have been burned in rural areas of Alabama during the past week. Five fires occurred early Friday morning south of Birmingham. Four more churches burned early Tuesday near the Mississippi state line. Of the nine churches burned, five were destroyed.
All of the fires have involved churches of the Baptist faith - a Protestant denomination. James Cavanaugh, a special agent in charge with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he does not know of a motive.
"It could be a religious bias. It could be a devil-Satanic thing. It could be somebody angry at Baptist churches. It could be a number of motives, and we're exploring those," he said.
More than 100 law enforcement officials from federal, state, and county agencies are investigating the fires. While all of the churches that burned on Tuesday had predominantly black congregations, four of the five churches burned last week were mostly white.
Sheriff David Abston of Pickens County, in western Alabama, said the fire that damaged Dancy First Baptist Church appeared to have been intentionally set.
"The whole thing is strange. What the motives would be, we don't know, but we're going to investigate it," he said.
Investigators are looking for two people in a sport utility vehicle seen near some of the fires. Some congregations have begun keeping overnight vigils to protect their churches.