Federal charges filed against woman accused of setting fires at First Baptist Church Montgomery

New federal charges have been filed against the woman accused of setting fire to First Baptist Church Montgomery.

Xiaoqin Yan, 27, was arrested Oct. 4 on charges of second-degree arson after four fires were set at FBC Montgomery on Sept. 30.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced last week that Yan also is charged with violating Title 18 U.S.C. Section 8449(i), under which a person is charged if they maliciously damage, destroy or attempt to damage or destroy, using fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce or any activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce.

Numerous agencies were involved in the investigation, including the Montgomery Fire/Rescue Bureau of Investigations, the Montgomery Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Auburn Police Department. If convicted on the federal charges, Yan faces a prison sentence of between 5–20 years in prison.

‘Suspicious’ interactions

Documents released publicly show that FBC Montgomery Pastor Mark Bethea told investigators he had interacted with a “small in stature Asian female” after a Sept. 26 service and escorted her from the church premises. Weeks before the fire, Bethea said he had previously interacted with an Asian female who was “acting suspiciously.” The license plate number he obtained from the vehicle she was driving was later identified as a car registered in Yan’s name, documents show.

Others connected to the church told investigators they had interacted with the woman at the church prior to the arson attack. A search of Yan’s residence and vehicle turned up multiple pieces of evidence, including masks, clothing, cigarette lighters, gas cans, cell phones, a copy of Yan’s passport and other documents, a 9mm pistol, a firearm magazine loaded with ammunition, additional 9mm rounds, a personal diary, a glove with burn marks, and receipts from Walmart for the purchase of lighters, duffel bags, gas cans and starter logs, according to the court documents.

Members of First Baptist Church Montgomery gather outside for worship on Oct. 11. (Facebook photo by Rachel Love)

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