Suspected Islamic Centre arsonist faces life in prison

30th Sep 2016

Elham Asaad Buaras

A 32-year-old messianic Jew arrested for the arson attack on an Islamic centre in Florida is facing at least 30 years in prison as a repeat offender, officials said. Joseph Michael Schreiber is accused of setting ablaze the Fort Pierce Islamic Center on the night of September 11.

Schreiber was arrested and charged on September 14 with second-degree arson that was upgraded to a first degree felony that includes “hate crime enhancement”.

Michael D’Alonzo, an FBI agent cooperating with the sheriff’s office, said at a press conference that the agency was looking into potential “civil rights violations” to charge the suspect on a federal level, including a hate crime.

Schreiber was arrested after tips from the public, including members of the Muslim community, matched surveillance footage that was earlier released by the sheriff’s office.

A search of the suspect’s house revealed evidence that linked him to the crime, including the motorcycle the suspect in the video was seen riding.

In July Schreiber posted a Facebook message which said that for the US to experience peace and security, it “should consider all forms of Islam as radical, the truth is that there is no such a thing as radical Islamic extremism…all Islam is radical.”

Other sources of content on Schreiber’s Facebook page include the World Zionist Organization, the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim party Britain First and Israeli army spokesperson Peter Lerner.

According to Schreiber’s Facebook page, he is also a fan of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, IDF Women, the Israeli American Council of Florida and the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.

On June 17, Schreiber posted 11 videos from the The Israel Project, a right-wing anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim organisation. One of the The Israel Project videos shows President Bill Clinton accusing Palestinians of deliberately inducing Israel to kill them. Another video claims Iran wants to commit genocide against millions of Israeli Jews.

The sheriff’s office shared a video that showed a “lone individual either of white or Hispanic ancestry” disembark from a Harley Davidson-style motorcycle and enter the mosque complex made up of several buildings, some of them wooden, just before midnight. He then started a fire near the center of the complex using a bottle of fluid he carried with him.

A Rebuilding the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce campaign launched on crowd sourcing website had already raised more than $22,000 of a $50,000 funding goal in two days.

The Fort Pierce Islamic Center came to national attention after Omar Mateen, who frequented the mosque, allegedly killed 49 victims and wounded dozens at a gay nightclub in Orlando on June 12.

Chair of the Arizona chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, Imraan Siddiqi, blamed individuals and organisations exploiting anti-Muslim hate would eventually lead to violent attacks on Muslims.

“This can be looked at as the output of the well-funded Islamophobia industry – where according to CAIR, nearly $206 million was funneled into just 33 hate groups,” said Siddiqi. “There is definitely an overlap in far-right, pro-Israel groups espousing and promoting Islamophobic rhetoric, which can lead to hate crimes like these,” he added.

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