Missouri man charged with hate crime after alleged attempted arson at Islamic center during Ramadan
© Cape Girardeau Police Department

A 42-year-old Missouri man was charged with a federal hate crime this week after allegedly attempting to set fire to an Islamic center during Ramadan. 

Nicholas Proffitt of Cape Girardeau, Mo., was charged with felony burglary in the first degree, felony arson in the first degree and a hate crime of “property damage in the first degree which is enhanced as the defendant was knowingly motivated to do so by reason of a motive related to the religion of the people who worship at the Islamic Center,” the city’s police department confirmed Monday.

Authorities said in a Wednesday statement from the Department of Justice that security cameras at the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau allegedly captured Proffitt throwing “multiple objects through a glass window, causing it to break.” He then appeared to throw two containers into the center and enter it, before picking up the containers and splashing liquid inside the center.

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“Proffitt ignited the fire with some type of fire starter. The blaze began immediately and appeared to be accelerated by the liquid that was poured in the building,” the Wednesday statement reads. The fire occurred on April 24, the first day of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Proffitt was arrested Monday in connection to the fire. He was held without bond, and his first appearance in front of a judge was set for Thursday. 

The New York Times reported that in 2009, Proffitt threw rocks at the center and later pleaded guilty to two charges of property damage motivated by discrimination. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Shafiq Malik, the president of the Islamic center, told the Times that “I was very surprised it was him because last time he said he was drunk and was very sorry and that he didn’t mean to do it."

“Now he definitely has anti-Muslim sentiment,” he continued.

No one was injured in the fire, but the damage resulted in the city condemning the building, according to the outlet. 

Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a Wednesday statement that “To people of faith in our nation, houses of worship are sacred places. Attacks against houses of worship are attacks against people of faith and their right to exercise their religion freely and without fear. The Justice Department will defend the right of all people in our country to exercise their religion, no matter the creed.” 

Marino Vidoli, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Kansas City Field Division, said: “When a house of worship is intentionally damaged by fire, it is not only that congregation that suffers, but the entire community. Religious centers, churches and mosques are often at the center of our neighborhoods, offering sanctuaries of peace and caring to those in need."

"Today’s complaint is an example of local, state and federal law enforcement coming together to support our communities," Vidoli added.