Florida man sentenced for threats against mosques

A Florida man was sentenced to one year and one day in prison for threatening to bomb two mosques and shoot their congregants, a federal hate crime, shortly after November’s deadly attacks in Paris, U.S. Justice Department officials said on Monday.

Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, of Seminole, pleaded guilty in February to one count of obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs.

Schnitzler faced up to 20 years in prison on the federal charges, but U.S. District Court Judge James D. Whittemore sentenced him to one year plus one day.

“This prosecution sends a clear message to anyone who contemplates the use of threats or intimidation to interfere with the right of individuals to worship as they choose, without fear,” U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III of the Middle District of Florida said in a statement Monday.

Schnitzler admitted to having left the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County profanity-laced voice messages in which he threatened congregants on Nov. 13, 2015.

Both messages referred to the Paris attacks, which had occurred the same day and killed 130 people. Schnitzler admitted that his threats were prompted by the attacks.

In one message, he threatened to “personally have a militia” show up at one of the mosques, and “firebomb you, shoot whoever is there on sight in the head. I don’t care if they’re [expletive] two years old or a hundred.”

The threats drove both mosques to request increased law-enforcement presence and ramp up their own safety measures.

Bryant Camareno, a lawyer for Schnitzler, said in February that his client expressed remorse and was “upset at the emotional harm” he caused congregants.

He also said Schnitzler was not a credible threat, having taken no steps to carry out the harms he threatened.

Camareno could not be reached to comment on Monday.

(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Fort Worth, Texas; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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