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Suspect pleads no contest to Florida mosque fire

AP  |  Fort Pierce (US) 

An ex-convict who posted anti-Islamic rants online pleaded no contest today to setting fire to a mosque that the Orlando nightclub shooter occasionally attended was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Joseph Schreiber, dressed in a burnt orange jumpsuit, his wrists and ankles shackled, pleaded no contest during today's hearing before Circuit Judge Steven Levin. Schreiber answered Levin's questions in a clear, unwavering voice before sentencing. He was also ordered to pay USD 10,000 in restitution although damages exceeded USD 1,00,000.

A no contest plea is treated the same as a guilty plea. He had confessed to detectives that he set fire to the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce last September 11, the 15th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The damage to the mosque was so extensive that the leaders recently announced that it will move.

Omar Mateen was killed by police after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in a rampage that left 49 victims dead and 53 wounded, making it the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Mateen professed allegiance to the Islamic State group. His father is among roughly 100 people who regularly attend the mosque.

Schreiber, who is Jewish, posted on Facebook last July that "All Islam is radical" and that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists and criminals.

Prosecutor Steve Gosnell said Schreiber, 32, confessed to detectives that he set the fire, saying he believed Muslims "are trying to infiltrate our government" and that "the teaching of Islam should be completely, completely illegal".

Schreiber, however, in a written statement read to the court said that the fire was not caused by hate but by his anxiety. He feared that there could be another 9-11, Boston Marathon bombing or Pulse nightclub shooting, he said.

He called on Muslim communities "to make peace with America, make peace with Israel and stop the attacks". He then turned toward the mosque's imam and apologised, who whispered "thank you" in return.

Schreiber was previously sentenced twice to state prison for theft, according to records from the Florida Department of Corrections. The records show he served his first sentence from March 2008 to July 2009 and his second from June 2010 to August 2014.

Last September, a former inmate who served time with Schreiber at the faith-based Lawtey Correctional Institution, described Schreiber as being a "couple cans short of a six-pack".

Ralph Alfonso said Schreiber joined a Messianic Jewish group he led because he was looking for a place to fit in.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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First Published: Tue, February 07 2017. 02:32 IST
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