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String of arsons puts Houston's Hindus on edge

String of arsons puts Houston's Hindus on edge

Author: Harvey Rice
Publication: Houston Chronicle
Date: December 1, 2003

Temple's members fear they're targets

A string of arson attacks, under investigation by a two-county task force, may be targeting members of the Hindu faith, a leading member of a Houston-area Hindu temple says.

"People are concerned and we would like to have the responsible leaders look into this," said Natubhai Patel, a member of the Shree Swaminarayan Temple.

Patel and other members of the Hindu community believe the victims of all 11 fires under investigation by the task force were Hindus.

The latest victim was Sudhan Patel, no relation to Natubhai, whose house in the 12200 block of Tambourine burned to the ground Friday.

One of Sudhan Patel's neighbors, who asked that her name not be used because she feared retaliation by the arsonist, said her back yard was doused with a flammable liquid and set ablaze about two months ago.

The woman, who is acquainted with six other Hindu victims, said there is deep concern among the members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad Temple, which she attends. "We are scared," she said. "We cannot sleep."

Fort Bend County Fire Marshal Vance Cooper said he wasn't sure if all the victims were Hindu. "I don't have enough information to say, yes, they are being targeted, and not enough to say, no, they are not," Cooper said. "I know we have had a series of 11 fires and that we feel they are related. What we need is help from the local community."

Investigators have issued a composite drawing of a man seen near several of the fires who is sought for questioning.

The fires, which occurred over the past six months, are being investigated by a task force of arson investigators from the Houston Fire Department, Fort Bend County, Harris County and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The fact that the victims have been Hindus suggests the Hindu community is being targeted, Natubhai Patel said. "We don't know really who would be behind it," he said. "It's anybody's guess."

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