Three college students accused of setting fire to a string of rural Alabama churches now face state arson and burglary charges, in addition to federal conspiracy counts, state Attorney General Troy King announced Wednesday.

"Many have said that these were just college pranks, that this was a joke that got out of hand," King said. "It was not a joke then, it is not a joke now."

The fires damaged or destroyed five churches in Bibb County, south of Birmingham, on Feb. 3, and four churches in west Alabama on Feb. 7.

Matthew Lee Cloyd, 20, of Indian Springs, and Benjamin Nathan Mosley, 20, of Birmingham, are charged with nine counts of second-degree arson and nine counts of third-degree burglary. Russell Lee DeBusk, 19, of Birmingham, is charged with five counts of second-degree arson and five counts of third-degree burglary.

The three, arrested March 8, are being held in the Shelby County Jail on the federal conspiracy counts and have pleaded not guilty.

King said the state decided to filed charges, too, as insurance, to make certain "justice will be had."