Police in Seattle have arrested a Libyan immigrant, who reportedly made anti-gay remarks to a friend, in a New Year’s Eve arson that could have killed hundreds at an iconic gay bar in the city’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.
The swift action of patrons of Neighbours, who managed to douse the worst of the fire, pull an alarm and set off sprinklers, averted an inferno that might have ended the lives of over 750 people — more than four times as many victims as the 168 killed in the April 19, 1995, terrorist attack on Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
On Feb. 1, police arrested Musab Masmari, a 30-year-old identified from video footage as the likely arsonist who spilled gasoline down Neighbours’ staircase and set it aflame during the first minutes of 2014.
Masmari, who had lived in Capitol Hill for years, was attempting to flee the country at the time of his arrest. He has been charged with attempted arson, with bail set at $1 million. The FBI, meanwhile, has announced that it is investigating the case as a possible hate crime — a probe that is likely to bear fruit if, as a friend of his reportedly told FBI agents, Masmari believes that “homosexuals should be exterminated.”
According to Seattle’s KIRO-TV, the friend, who met Masmari at a café near the mosque both attended, told authorities that Masmari had talked at length about his hatred of LGBT people, adding that it seemed he might have been planning other terrorist attacks.
Neighbours has been targeted before. In 1990, three members of the Aryan Nations, a neo-Nazi hate group, went to prison on charges connected with their plot to set off pipe bombs at the popular hangout in an attempt to reignite a 1983-84 campaign of terror carried out by a different Aryan Nations-derived group, The Order, against perceived enemies. With help from an informant, the 1990 plotters were stopped by the FBI and convicted on conspiracy, bomb-possession and firearms charges.
Not surprisingly, this year’s attack unsettled Seattle’s LGBT community. “I think a lot of people suspect a real malicious intent here,” George Bakan, editor of Seattle Gay News, told the Intelligence Report shortly after the attack.
Though the LGBT rights movement has seen major advances in recent years, LGBT people remain the most victimized minority in America by violent hate crime. In 2010, an analysis by the Report of 14 years of federal hate crime data showed that they were more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.