The man who tried to kill a crowd of 750 people packed inside a popular Seattle gay bar by setting it afire on New Year’s Eve has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of arson. Despite some evidence that he was motivated by hatred of LGBT people, Musab Mohammad Masmari will not face federal hate crime charges.
The Seattle Times reports that Masmari, a 30-year-old American-born man of Libyan extraction and upbringing, reached an agreement with prosecutors on Friday to plead guilty to arson. Though prosecutors had substantial reason to believe it was an anti-LGBT bias crime, he will not face federal hate-crime charges. Prosecutors said that Masmari’s motives will be addressed by the judge during the sentencing phase, which comes next week.
The plea agreement specifies that prosecutors will only seek a five-year prison sentence for the crime. However, prosecutors told KOMO-TV that the judge was free to ignore their recommendations and sentence Masmari to a prison term ranging up to 20 years.
Masmari got into Neighbours, a popular Capitol Hill bar, last New Year’s Eve with a canister of gasoline hidden inside another container, making it past security by entering through an adjoining tavern. He then tried to set a stairwell leading up to the rear entrance afire by dousing it with the gas, lighting it and fleeing. Alert action by bar patrons managed to douse the flames before they could spread.
Video surveillance cameras inside the bar captured Masmari’s image as he walked through with the container, and his neighbors and acquaintances identified him to detectives in short order. After Masmari was brought in for questioning and released, he apparently attempted to flee the country by buying a plane ticket to Turkey. But he was arrested at Sea-Tac Airport and subsequently charged with arson.
KIRO-TV reported that a friend of Masmari told FBI agents that Masmari had a “deep distaste for homosexual people” and thought “homosexuals should be exterminated,” despite living for several years at an apartment in Capitol Hill, Seattle’s best-known gay neighborhood. The informant told the agents he had met Masmari at a café near a mosque both attended and that Masmari had laid out his hatred of LGBT people over the course of their conversation. He said Masmari told him he had obtained a rifle, and added that he feared Masmari might have been planning other terrorist acts.
Neighbours has a history of being targeted by hate-crime perpetrators. In 1990, several members of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations organization from Hayden Lake in northern Idaho were arrested and charged with plotting to kill dozens, if not hundreds, of Neighbours patrons. The attackers had traveled to Seattle intent on reigniting a 1983-84 campaign of domestic terrorism carried out by an Aryan Nations-derived group, The Order, against their perceived enemies: Jews, African Americans, and LGBT people. They were thwarted by the presence of an informant and arrested in Seattle before they could carry out the plot.