Tuesday 6 December 2016

No bail for mosque fire accused considered danger

Published 15/09/2016 | 02:36

Joseph Schreiber is facing a charge of arson with a hate crime enhancement (Florida Department of Corrections/AP)
Joseph Schreiber is facing a charge of arson with a hate crime enhancement (Florida Department of Corrections/AP)

The man accused of setting fire to the mosque sometimes attended by Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen is to be held without bail after a judge called him a danger to the community and a flight risk.

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Joseph Michael Schreiber looked down during most of the brief hearing before St Lucie County Judge Philip Yacucci. He told the judge he could not afford a private lawyer and was appointed a public defender. He also acknowledged two previous stints in prison.

Schreiber, 32, was arrested without incident and charged with second-degree arson with a hate crime enhancement, a crime that carries a maximum 30-year sentence.

The fire was started late on Sunday on the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. The blaze also coincided with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.

No one was injured in the fire, which burned a 10-by-10-foot hole in the roof at the back of the mosque's main building and blackened its eaves with soot.

Judge Yacucci also noted that Schreiber had made anti-Islamic posts on social media. Last July, he posted on Facebook that "All Islam is radical" and that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists and criminals.

Schreiber, who is Jewish, stated that, "IF AMERICA truly wants peace and safety and pursuit of happiness they should consider all forms of ISLAM as radical. ... ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL, and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS (sic) and all hoo (sic) participate in such activity should be found guilty of WAR CRIM (sic) until law and order is restored in this beautiful free country."

Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida, said Schreiber "obviously doesn't know about the efforts our community is engaged in with our cousins, the Jews, not only in Florida but throughout the nation."

Omar Saleh, a lawyer for Cair, described both Schreiber and Mateen as "degenerates" and "punks".

"Just like on June 12, when I was stressing that Mateen's actions do not speak on behalf of Islam, I know that whatever religion Mr Schreiber is, his actions do not speak on behalf of his religion," Mr Saleh said.

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 attend the mosque.

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.

A weekend surveillance video from the mosque showed a man on a motorcycle approaching the building with a bottle of liquid and some papers and then leaving when there was a flash. The first 911 calls were made about 45 minutes later after the fire had spread to the attic. It took about four-and-a-half hours for firefighters to extinguish the blaze.

The FBI and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation into the fire. Sheriff's officials had released the video and asked for the public's help in identifying the arsonist.

Rabbi Bruce Benson, a chaplain with the Port St. Lucie Police Department, was outside Schreiber's home. He said Schreiber attended his synagogue for about a month last spring to study the Torah, but left little impression and gave no indication he might act violently in the future.

Rabbi Benson said Schreiber's father went to his office after his son was arrested, even though he was not a member of his synagogue.

"I guess he didn't know where else to go," Rabbi Benson said, adding that Schreiber's parents are "shocked, just like any of us would be if it were our child".

He said his reform synagogue, Temple Beth El Israel, has tried unsuccessfully in the past to reach out to the mosque.

"We would welcome the opportunity," Rabbi Benson said. "They're a community feeling under attack. If we could all talk a bit, maybe things like this wouldn't have to happen."

AP

According to a St Lucie County Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit, Schreiber was developed as a suspect in part because of a tip.

Detectives said that after his arrest, he admitted starting the fire, said he had no intention of hurting anyone and was embarrassed to have committed the crime.

AP

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