A Florida man was arrested for planning a mass shooting at a Masjid in Florida, authorities said Monday.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters at a press conference that the investigation started when a source alerted his office in October about Bolatete’s scheme to carry out a mass shooting at the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida in Jacksonville.
An undercover detective made contact with Bolatete and started recording their conversations to confirm his intentions to carry out the attack. Court records show that the contact was made at a local shooting range. At one point Bolatete boasted of his prowess with firearms and claimed to have killed a police officer in the Philippines.
In one of the recorded conversations, the detective and the suspect were heading towards the shooting range and as they drove by the targetted mosque Bolatete said “I have to bring my … my long guns there and uh, stay at that, uh, tower. Keep shooting those Muslims, you know, on Friday. (laughing) … So we’ll try … we will try a Christian doing uh, terroristic act this time, hum, to the Muslims the, they [laughing] they doing it all the time. You know?”
A SWAT team arrested Bernardino Bolatete, a 69-year-old Green Card holder from the Philippines, on December 1st. He was charged with knowingly possessing a silencer not registered to him – a federal offense – in connection with the plot.
Authorities also raided Bolatete’s home to investigate if he had other illegal weapons, FBI special agent Charles Spencer said. Adding “[The FBI’s mission] includes enforcing civil rights statutes and protecting the public’s right to exercise freedom of religion as guaranteed by the First Amendment. A civil rights investigation is ongoing. The FBI will not stand for threats of violence in our community against any group, and we will protect the freedoms the Constitution provides.”
The raid came days after President Trump retweeted Islamophobic videos from a British far-right group, which received condemnation from critics in the U.S. and around the world.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) praised the arrest of Bolatete, saying the mass shooting he planned to commit was an act of terrorism. A statement by CAIR-Florida communications director Wilfredo Ruiz said “This should concern not only Muslims, but all Florida residents regardless of faith. CAIR-Florida continues to work closely with our community to keep them safe by providing security training sessions in mosques and other locations throughout the state.”