Suspect in Florida mosque fire confessed

Ex-convict Joseph Michael Schreiber told detectives he set fire to a mosque on the 15th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Joseph Michael Schreiber

An ex-convict who posted anti-Islamic rants online confessed to setting fire to a mosque that the Orlando nightclub shooter occasionally attended, and said he was embarrassed by the crime, according to an arrest affidavit released Thursday.

St. Lucie County sheriff's detectives wrote in the affidavit that after Joseph Michael Schreiber was arrested Wednesday, he told detectives that he had set the fire at the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce on anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The blaze also coincided with the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Part of a burnt wall is seen at the mosque that was attended by the Pulse nightclub gunman, who killed 49 people in Orlando on September 12, 2016 in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Schreiber, who previously served two prison terms for theft, was identified as a suspect partly because of a tip from the public, the affidavit said.

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

St. Lucie County Judge Philip Yacucci ordered Schreiber held without bail Thursday, calling him a danger to the community and a flight risk.

He also noted that Schreiber had made anti-Islamic posts on social media. Last July, Schreiber 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."

Ruiz criticized Gov. Rick Scott and other politicians who failed to speak out after the fire and denounce what he called "terrorism."

Scott's office issued a brief statement in response late Thursday saying only, "Local law enforcement is investigating and the state stands ready to assist in their efforts in any way."

A weekend surveillance video from the mosque showed a man on a motorcycle approaching the building while talking on a cellphone, according to the affidavit.

He carried a bottle of liquid and some papers and left 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.

Orlando nightclub shooter Omar 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 DAESH group. His father is among roughly 100 people who regularly attend the mosque.