WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal law enforcement officials have found no links among any of several recent fires at African American churches in the U.S. South and have determined that two were started by natural causes and one was due to an electrical fire.
“All of the fires remain under active investigation and federal law enforcement continues to work to determine the cause of all of the fires,” Justice Department spokeswoman Melanie Newman said in a statement. “To date the investigations have not revealed any potential links between the fires.”
The investigation into the fires follows the June 17 shootings at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine black people were killed and a white man linked to racist views was charged in their deaths.
A federal law enforcement team including the FBI and the Justice Department’s civil rights division are investigating several church fires across five states over the past two weeks, Newman said.
If evidence emerges to support hate crime charges in any of the fires, the FBI, in coordination with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local authorities, will work closely with the civil rights division and federal prosecutors “to bring those forward,” Newman said.
Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Sandra Maler