(JTA) — A Jewish ex-convict was sentenced to 30 years in prison for setting fire to a mosque that the Orlando nightclub shooter occasionally attended.
Joseph Schreiber, 32, pleaded no contest Monday in a hearing in the district courthouse in Fort Pierce, Florida, and was also ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. He had confessed to police that he set fire to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce on Sept. 11, the 15th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Omar Mateen was killed by police officers after opening fire at the Pulse nightclub on June 12 in a rampage that killed 49 people and wounded 53. The mass shooting, which Mateen said was in the name of the Islamic State group, was the deadliest in modern U.S. history.
The fire destroyed the mosque, causing more than $100,000 in damages, and the leaders announced recently that they would move it to a new location. Mateen’s father is among the some 100 regular worshippers at the mosque.
After being arrested, Schreiber told detectives that he set the fire, saying Muslims “are trying to infiltrate our government” and “the teaching of Islam should be completely, completely illegal.” He was captured setting the fire by a surveillance camera.
Last July, Schreiber posted on Facebook that “All Islam is radical” and that all Muslims should be treated as terrorists and criminals. In the past decade, he had twice served time in Florida state prison for theft, and as a repeat offender could have been sentenced to life for the fire.
Before he was sentenced, Schreiber read a written statement, saying he had acted not out of hate but anxiety. He said he feared Florida would see another 9/11, Boston Marathon bombing or Pulse nightclub shooting.
“My message is this to all the Muslim communities on the face of the earth: Make peace with America and make peace with Israel and stop the killings, stop the attacks,” he said.
Schreiber then apologized to mosque member Mohammad Malik, mistaking him for the imam, who replied “thank you” in a whisper.
After the hearing, Malik told The Associated Press that Muslims “believe that God is merciful and just as we want to be forgiven by him we should also forgive.” The “bright spot” of the fire, he said, is that the local Jewish and Islamic communities are now communicating.
Rabbi Bruce Benson, who leads a local Reform synagogue, told the AP he has been meeting with Schreiber regularly since his arrest and believes he is remorseful and was glad not to have injured anyone.