A 32-year-old man has been arrested and is facing a charge of arson and hate crime in a fire that heavily damaged a mosque in Florida, according to US authorities.
Joseph Michael Schreiber was arrested without incident on Wednesday afternoon and was being interrogated by investigators looking into the fire set late on Sunday at the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce, said Major David Thompson of the St Lucie County Sheriff’s Office.
Thompson said Schreiber was taken into custody on a street in Fort Pierce by authorities acting on tips from members of the community and aided by surveillance video taken from the mosque and elsewhere.
He said the arson charge, coupled with a hate crime enhancement under Florida law, carries a sentence of up to 30 years in prison.
The fire was set late on Sunday on the 15th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The blaze also coincided with the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha.
Thompson said a search warrant was executed at Schreiber’s home, where investigators reported finding evidence linked to the arson, as well as anti-Islamic social media posts.
A Facebook page apparently belonging to the suspect, established under his name with photos resembling his booking photo, include a message posted on July 12 that said “ALL ISLAM IS RADICAL, and should be considered TERRORIST AND CRIMANALS” written in capital letters with several mispellings.
Wilfredo Amr Ruiz, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida (CAIR-Florida), responded to social media posts by Schreiber claiming to be a Jew who was “fighting back”.
“He 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,” Ruiz said.
— CAIR Florida | Council American-Islamic Relations (@CAIRFlorida) September 15, 2016
Schreiber was previously sentenced twice to state prison for theft, according to records from the Florida Department of Corrections.
At the news conference, Thompson said detectives were still questioning Schreiber on Wednesday evening, and he didn’t say if Schreiber had a lawyer.
No one was injured in the fire, which burned a large hole in the roof at the back of the mosque’s main building and blackened its eaves with soot.
There were reports that the mosque had been attended by Omar Mateen, the man who opened fire at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people and injuring 53 others on June 12.
Mateen, a New York-born resident of Florida, was killed by police.
His father is reportedly among roughly 100 people who attend the Islamic Centre of Fort Pierce regularly.
The mosque has reported numerous threats of violence and intimidation since it was identified publicly as Mateen’s place of worship.
In June a motorcycle gang circled the property and shouted at its members, and in July a Muslim man was beaten outside the mosque.