February 6, 2017 / 11:09 PM / 6 months ago

Florida man sentenced to 30 years in prison for mosque fire

File Photo: A view of the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, a center attended by Omar Mateen who attacked Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in Fort Pierce, Florida, U.S. on June 17, 2016.Mike Brown/File Photo

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida man pleaded no contest and was sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison for setting fire last year to the mosque where Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen once worshipped, court officials said.

Joseph Schreiber, 32, caused more than $100,000 in damage to the Islamic Center of Fort Pierce, which he set ablaze on Sept. 11, 2016, the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities said.

The crime also coincided with the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

No one was hurt, but the fire forced the congregation to relocate prayer services as it seeks a new home.

Schreiber told police after his arrest in September that his attack on the mosque had nothing to do with Mateen, Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell said in an interview on Monday.

A lawyer for Schreiber could not be immediately reached after Monday's court hearing in St. Lucie County.

File Photo: Joseph Michael Schreiber, 32, of Florida is pictured in this undated handout photo. St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

The mosque was close to the apartment Mateen shared with his wife before he killed 49 people and wounded dozens more at a gay nightclub in Orlando last June, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Mateen pledged allegiance to the head of the Islamic State militant group during a 911 emergency call before being killed in a shootout with police after a three-hour standoff at the Pulse nightclub. Investigators do not believe he had assistance from outside organizations.

Schreiber told investigators he viewed the teachings of Islam as a national security threat, Gosnell said. Police previously said Schreiber's Facebook page included anti-Muslim rhetoric.

"He said he wasn't angry, he didn't do it with hatred," the prosecutor said.

Schreiber faced up to life in prison given his prior criminal record and the charge against him, arson evidencing prejudice, essentially a hate crime in Florida, Gosnell said.

"It's horrible when anyone attacks a house of worship for whatever purpose," the prosecutor said.

Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Peter Cooney

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