Federal agents say two Birmingham college students are under arrest.
Other sources say a third was later taken into custody in relation to a string of fires that destroyed or damaged nine rural churches in Alabama in February.
Benjamin Nathan Moseley and Russell Lee Debusk, Jr., both students at Birmingham-Southern College, appeared before a U.S. Magistrate in federal court Wednesday and were ordered held on church arson charges pending a hearing.
A source told Newscenter 11 that a third suspect, Matthew Lee Cloyd, a student at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, is also in custody.
The arrests follow a probe of arson at five Baptist churches in Bibb County south of Birmingham on Feb. 3 and four Baptist churches in west Alabama on Feb. 7.
An affidavit from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms special agent Walker Johnson said Moseley, on Mar. 8, told agents that he, Cloyd and Debusk went to Bibb County in Cloyd's green Toyota SUV on Feb. 2 and set fire to five churches.
A witness quoted Cloyd as saying Moseley did it "as a joke and it got out of hand."
Moseley also told agents the four in west Alabama were set as a diversion to throw investigators off.
Investigators have said they don't know a motive, but there is no racial pattern. Five of the churches had white congregations and five black.