More Arrests Near in Church Fire Investigation

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CHARLOTTE, NC: As the federal investigation of a series of arsons at black churches intensified, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin announced the formation of a federal task force on the burnings, and a 13-year-old girl was arrested and charged with last Thursday's torching of a church in Charlotte. Investigators were also questioning three white men about two suspicious fires that damaged black churches in Texas on Sunday night. The white teenage girl charged today with the North Carolina fire was described by authorities as a troubled teen who has no connection to any known hate groups. No connection linking the more than 30 recent fires at black churches has yet been found. But TIME Washington correspondent Elaine Shannon reports that arrests are imminent in connection with several of the South Carolina church fires, and that the suspects in those cases are known to be connected to anti-black organizations. "They know who the suspects are," says Shannon. "They are related to hate groups. But to date there are no threads linking these clusters of arson fires to any national or regional organizations." Responding today to complaints from ministers that FBI and ATF agents have unfairly interrogated them in the burnings, Secretary Rubin acknowledged that "there have been instances of insensitivity" and promised that the improper behavior would not continue. Black ministers have complained that agents subjected them to lie-detector tests, subpoenaed church records and considered every member of their congregations to be suspects. But in some cases, the agents, while possibly insensitive, may have been acting properly. Shannon notes that federal agents must track down all leads. "In every arson investigation, every kidnapping, every murder case, they always start with who is closest to the victim," Shannon says. "If the agents leave those stones unturned, they'll be criticized later." -->