By JIM SALTER (AP)
O’FALLON, Mo. — Prosecutors have charged a 42-year-old man accused of setting fire to a Missouri mosque last week with a hate crime and other counts.
Nicholas Proffitt, who spent time in prison for defacing the Islamic Center of Cape Girardeau more than a decade ago, was due to appear in federal court Thursday for an initial appearance on a charge of maliciously damaging a building by means of fire in last week’s attack.
Proffitt was charged Tuesday with three state counts stemming from the fire: first-degree burglary, first-degree arson and first-degree property damage motivated by discrimination, which is a hate crime.
The fire was discovered shortly before 5 a.m. on April 24, at the outset of the Muslim holy month Ramadan. The U.S. Attorney’s office in St. Louis said the center’s video security system showed Proffitt throwing several objects through a window, then throwing two containers into the center through the broken glass.
According to federal prosecutors, Proffitt stepped into the building through the broken window, picked up the containers and began pouring an apparent liquid accelerant before he lit a fire that began immediately.
There were 12 to 15 people inside the building at the time, but they all managed to escape without injury, police said.
“To people of faith in our nation, houses of worship are sacred places,” Assistant state Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement. “Attacks against houses of worship are attacks against people of faith and their right to exercise their religion freely and without fear.”
Proffitt, who is from Cape Girardeau, a city in southeastern Missouri across the border from southern Illinois, does not have a listed attorney. In 2009, he pleaded guilty to state charges for throwing rocks that damaged the same mosque and a vehicle in the parking lot. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Yasir Ali, board chairman for the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, urged federal authorities to also charge Proffitt with a hate crime.
“Unfortunately, hatred hasn’t stopped during this pandemic,” Ali said in a statement.