Man arrested, said to confess to arson at Houston Islamic center

Man charged with first-degree felony arson in Houston Islamic center fire

A Houston man has apparently confessed to arson in a fire that destroyed a building at an Islamic center last week, officials said.

A fire department spokesman told reporters that Darryl Ferguson, believed to be about 55 years old, had been arrested and charged with first-degree felony arson in connection with a blaze that was set near a storage area of the Quba Islamic Institute Mosque and School on Friday morning.

Nearly 25 firefighters responded to the blaze. A fire department spokeswoman previously said a preliminary investigation showed the fire had been set intentionally, although the cause of the blaze was not immediately clear.

Ferguson, who apparently lives near the mosque, was picked up by arson investigators and interviewed Monday afternoon. He apparently confessed to the arson and offered a motive for the blaze, according to a city fire spokesman, who declined to be more specific.

Ferguson does not have a history of arson, but he does have a criminal record, officials said.

Worshipers said the fire was particularly troubling after an attack in Chapel Hill, N.C., that left three Muslims dead last week.

Houston has grown increasingly diverse as it expanded during the past decade to become the fourth-largest city in the U.S., home to the state's largest Muslim community of at least 57,000 and 22 Islamic centers and mosques, according to the Texas State Historical Assn.

Texas has the eighth largest Muslim population in the country, more than 420,000, according to the Texas State Historical Assn., and ranked third in the country for the state with the most mosques — 166 — after New York and California, according to a 2011 study.

But that has not led to increased inclusiveness, according to Ahsan Zahid, the 25-year-old son of the cultural center's imam. In a previous interview with the Los Angeles Times, Zahid noted that another fire was set at an Islamic center in southwest Houston in 2011, but the perpetrators were not charged despite the fact that the incident was caught on video.

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Times staff writer Molly Hennessy-Fiske contributed to this report.

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