Federal investigators explore motives for Idaho church arson

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BONNERS FERRY, Idaho (AP) — Federal investigators are trying to determine whether the arson fire that destroyed a Catholic church in Idaho was driven by religious or racial bias.

The Spokesman-Review reports (http://bit.ly/1VQJNMK ) that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating the Thursday fire at St. Ann's Catholic Church in Bonners Ferry.

St. Ann's parish priest is from Colombia and some of the parishioners are Hispanic. The church was also vandalized in February and investigators are looking into whether the crimes are connected.

The FBI says the crime can be prosecuted under the Church Arson Prevention Act if it was motivated in whole or part by an offender's bias against a race or religion. That would make the arson a federal crime that carries a prison term of 20 years.

Bonners Ferry Police Chief Vic Watson said he's optimistic the crime will be solved.

"I'm pretty confident that we're going to get charges filed in this and that the evidence is good enough that the people are going to have their day in court," Watson said.

He said his department turned the case over to federal agents and is in the process of transferring evidence.

Watson last Thursday said investigators had identified a person of interest in the case who was already in custody on unrelated charges. Police haven't released details, however.

No one was injured in the fire that caused more than $1 million in damage.


Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com

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