- The Washington Times - Friday, February 12, 2016

A Florida man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime charge that stemmed from threats he made to firebomb two mosques in the aftermath of the Paris terror attacks.

Martin Alan Schnitzler, 43, called both the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and the Islamic Society of Pinellas County in Florida and left threatening voicemails messages on Nov. 13, the day radical jihadists carried out a coordinated attack that killed 130 people in the French capital. In the expletive-laden messages, Schnitzler threatened violence against congregants and claimed to have a militia supporting him.

Investigators had an easy time tracking down Schnitzler, a self-described “red-blooded American,” as he identified himself by name in both of the messages, according to his plea agreement.

In one of the messages detailed in court documents, Schnitzler referenced several prior events held at the Islamic Society of St. Petersburg and said he planned to send a militia to “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.”

As a result of the threats, the mosque canceled religious services and requested a law enforcement presence around the facility.

In the voicemail left for the Islamic Society of Pinellas County, Schnitzler also threatened to bomb the mosque, saying, “I don’t care if you’re extremists or not. I’m tired of your [expletive].”

Congregants there also felt compelled to take additional safety precautions as a result of the threats.

“Come find me, please. Please report me. ‘Cause I would love, love it,” Schnitzler said after identifying himself in one of the messages.

FBI investigators obliged, and interviewed Schnitzler the following day. During the interview he admitted leaving the messages and said he knew doing so was “stupid and wrong.”

The Justice Department’s announcement Friday of the plea agreement comes at a time that American Muslims are increasingly concerned with becoming targets for hate crimes.

From the time of the deadly attacks in Paris through the beginning of February, the San Francisco-based group Muslim Advocates has tracked nearly 70 incidents of violence, threats or attacks targeted at Muslims that they think could be prosecuted as hate crimes. That number is close to half the number of hate crimes targeting Muslims that the FBI recorded for all of 2014.

Schnitzler, who pleaded guilty to one count of obstructing persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs by making the violent threats, faces up to 20 years in prison.

His sentencing date has not been set.

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