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Chinese woman faces federal charges for setting multiple fires at historic Alabama church

First Baptist Church Montgomery, Alabama
A west view of First Baptist Church located at S. Perry Street in Montgomery, Alabama, on July 13, 2016. Wikimedia License CC BY-SA 4.0 |

A 27-year-old Chinese national who arrived in the United States on a student visa from China has been charged with setting multiple fires inside First Baptist Church of Montgomery in Alabama.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it has filed federal charges against Xiaoquin Yan, 27, a Montgomery woman who was accused of committing arson at the church on Sept. 29, news station WSFA 12 reported.

Pastor Mark Bethea told agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives that during his interaction with the woman after the service on Sept. 26, he “ultimately escorted the female from the premises of the church.” He later found that the church's security staff had been approached by the same woman who was "acting suspiciously," so they wrote down her license plate number.

The security also observed “two blue duffel bags with white wiring inside the vehicle.”

When the woman visited the centuries-old church, she asked church custodians about where security cameras were positioned and requested a tour of the building, according to the indictment, Alabama Political Reporter said.

After the arson incident, ATF agents were able to match an older Buick LeSabre to the one registered to Yan, whose vehicle could be seen speeding up to leave the church in the early hours of Sept. 30.

The fire caused at least $25,000 worth of damage, according to court documents.

If convicted, the woman, charged with second-degree arson, faces up to 20 years in prison.

Yan's visa has also been revoked, The Epoch Times reported.

Yan was originally held on a $30,000 bond at the Montgomery County Detention Facility and Montgomery County District Judge Monet M. Gaines increased the bond fivefold to $150,000 after Attorney Daryl Bailey said in a motion that the $30,000 bail was “woefully inadequate to secure her presence in court given her strong ties to an overseas country.”

The motive behind the arson remains unknown and the judge has ordered an evaluation of Yan’s mental state.

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