SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offered a $50,000-reward for Thursday for information leading to the arrest of an arsonist who set fire to an Armenian church back in September.
The Sept. 17 fire at St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church, set by an unknown perpetrator, burned the church’s administration building where its offices, Sunday school and a library reside. No one was injured, but the blaze basically gutted the building.
While announcing the reward in a video recorded in front of the church, FBI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair said that the investigation was about protecting the congregation’s first amendment rights, which protect the freedom of religion.
“This act of violence was not just an attack on a building, but on a congregation,” Fair said. “This was an attack on a community.”
— FBI SanFrancisco (@FBISanFrancisco) December 17, 2020
Around the time of the fire, church leaders told asbarez.com that they suspected the fire was harassment. The incident followed an act of vandalism back in July when someone spray-painted the Krouzian-Zekarian Vasbouragan Armenian School and the adjacent community center with anti-Armenian, pro-Azerbaijani graffiti.
“For some context, in our history and around the globe, every time Armenians have been targeted, they come for our churches and our schools,” Alex Bastian, deputy chief of staff for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, tweeted at the time. “But you know what? It’s very hard to terrorize my community, no matter how hard people try. We are hardened by the millennia of hardship and the centuries of injustice. Most of us in the community are refugees, or the children of refugees, from war zones around the world.”
The FBI asked that anyone with information concerning the case contact the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office at (415) 553-7400, the San Francisco Police Department’s Anonymous Tip Line at (415) 575-4444, or Text a Tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD, which guarantees the callers’ anonymity. You may also contact your local FBI office, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or you can submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.
To see more photos of the damage from the fire, visit the FBI’s website.