Police in Columbus, Indiana, are investigating three acts of vandalism against local churches that unfolded Saturday night — a series of crimes that constitute an apparent first in the city.
But it's the messages that were spray painted on the buildings that have some wondering if the acts were pranks or part of a more serious and pointed effort to deliver a message to Christian leaders and parishioners, according to WTHR-TV.
Consider the message painted on Saint Bartholomew's Catholic Church. It read, "Infidels!" and included a Koranic reference: "Qur'an 3:151."
That verse reads, "We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers."
What those responsible for the acts were trying to convey is currently unclear.
"It's certainly not a warm and fuzzy verse. It talks about the infidels, their refuge being the fire," Father Doug Marcotte, a faith leader at the church, told WTHR-TV.
Similar messages were also found at Lakeview Church of Christ and East Columbus Christian Church.
Marcotte said the motivation for the graffiti is unclear, but the fact that these messages were posted only on Christian churches — houses of worship that were not necessarily near one another — has caused additional concern and confusion.
"Is there somebody that really believes this that we're all infidels so they felt the need to write it all over our church?" Is this some sort of nasty prank?," the priest asked. "Is this someone that's trying to incite people against Muslims? I mean I don't know."
Some members of the Islamic community have condemned the acts and offered to help remove the messages.
"We condemn this, and I read the verse, most importantly what that showed me is the ignorance who actually misquoted or misinterpreted the Quran," resident Nassim Khaled, a volunteer at a local Islamic center, told WXIN-TV.
Authorities continue to investigate who is responsible for the crimes, though they are urging caution.
"We encourage people to let us investigate this before jumping to any conclusions," Columbus Police spokesman Sgt. Matt Harris told the Indianapolis Star. "It's early on — we just don't know."