Church Fires

Morning Star Baptist and three other rural Alabama churches were damaged or destroyed by fires Tuesday, bringing the number of suspicious church fires in the state to nine in less than a week. Authorities said they had no clear suspects but were inspecting tire tracks and footprints and searching for a dark-colored sport-utility vehicle.

"Obviously somebody or somebodies are interested in burning down churches. Whether it's hate against a race or religion in general, we don't know," said Ragan Ingram, a spokesman for the state insurance agency that oversees fire investigations.

Ingram said the first rash of fires early Friday — at four predominantly white churches and one predominantly black church — are believed to be linked.

The FBI was already looking into whether those fires were civil rights violations under laws covering attacks on religious property, and the state and federal government had offered $10,000 in rewards for information when the new fires were reported.

The four fires Tuesday — all at predominantly black churches — could be a continuation of that crime spree, or they could be copycat attacks, Ingram said Wednesday.