Dark SUV Sought in Alabama Church Fires

Authorities were looking for a dark sports utility vehicle in the investigation into the Alabama church fires, a federal agent said Wednesday.

Agent Austin Banks, of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said authorities were searching for a dark-colored SUV spotted near one of the fires with two white males inside, in addition to following up on a number of other leads.

But an ATF official told FOX News that there is no evidence yet indicating the SUV was involved in the church fires. The SUV report is "one of hundreds of leads" authorities are following, the official said, and the suspicious fire scenes will be "totally processed" by the end of the day Wednesday. Every piece of evidence collected will be sent to the ATF lab in Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the state and federal government were offering $10,000 in rewards for information on the fires, which are suspected to have been set deliberately.

Morning Star Baptist and three other rural Alabama churches were damaged or destroyed by fires Tuesday, bringing the number of suspicious church fires in the state to nine in less than a week.

"Obviously somebody or somebodies are interested in burning down churches. Whether it's hate against a race or religion in general, we don't know," said Ragan Ingram, a spokesman for the state insurance agency that oversees fire investigations.

Ingram said the first rash of fires early Friday — at four predominantly white churches and one predominantly black church — are believed to be linked.

The FBI was already looking into whether those fires were civil rights violations under laws covering attacks on religious property. The four fires Tuesday — all at predominantly black churches — could be a continuation of that crime spree or they could be copycat attacks, Ingram said Wednesday.

Investigators believe the nine fires are connected, FBI acting assistant director Chip Burrus said.

But an ATF official told FOX News there is no evidence physically linking any of the Alabama church fires to each other. Despite "a lot of similarities" between them, including the way in which they were set, any or all of them could have been a case of copycat arsons, the official said.

All the churches are Baptist, the dominant faith in the area, and were off rural roads not far from highways. The fires were in two clusters: the first five in Bibb County, south of Birmingham, and the latest four in western Alabama, 10 to 20 miles apart.

Three of the fires Tuesday appeared to have started near the churches' altars, according to church members and authorities, and at least two were found to be arson.

Rich Marianos, a spokesman for the ATF, said more than 50 agents are assigned to the investigation and it is the No. 1 priority nationally.

Two members of the Old Union Baptist Church in Bibb County told investigators they saw a dark vehicle driving slowly by the church at Brierfield when they arrived moments after the fire was set.

Alvin Lawley, a member of the church, said he saw a white man in the passenger seat but couldn't see the driver.

FOX News' Michael Levine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.