Man who planned mass shooting at Islamic centre in Florida arrested

Bernandino Gawala "Nandie" Bolatete

A 69-year-old man from Jacksonville has been arrested for planning a mass shooting at an Islamic Centre in Florida, according to several law enforcement agencies in the U.S.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO), along with the FBI of Jacksonville, started investigating in October 2017 Bernandino Gawala Bolatete after a source tipped JSO.

The source told police that Bolatete expressed strong Islamophobic sentiments, including how he wanted to conduct a mass shooting at the Islamic Centre of Northeast Florida.

Sheriff Mike Williams said an undercover detective met with Bolatete and confirmed the information they received.

“The investigation confirmed the suspect was planning on carrying out a mass shooting and he already had the weaponry necessary to carry out the attack,” Sheriff Williams said.

According to the indictment, after the undercover operative sold Bolatete a silencer for $100 last week, he was arrested on a federal weapons violation.

At this point, that is the only criminal charge against him, but it carries a maximum penalty to up to 10 years in prison.

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News4Jax crime and safety analyst, Gil Smith, said the purchase of a silencer takes a long time to achieve legally, and obtaining one is unlikely.

Mr Smith said: “It’s a long process – one to four months to get approved for that, and it’s a lot of paperwork involved.

“Even once a person is approved, if they are approved, it still must be signed off by the chief of police in that jurisdiction. And, in many cases, they will not sign off unless it’s for someone who is involved in law enforcement.”

In a transcript of the conversations included in the criminal complaint, Bolatete said he had five rifles, one of which was an AR-15 that can be converted to into an AR-47.

He suggested going to the Islamic Centre in Florida on a Friday because it is “their Sunday equivalent to us Christians is Friday…go up to the tower and start shooting, right? It will be great, right?”

Williams said the FBI was notified, and plans to protect the centre were put into place while the investigation continued.

As soon as Bolatete was arrested, the centre’s imam was informed that “the threat had been neutralised.”

Ashraf Shaikh, chairman of the Islamic Centre of Northeast Florida’s board of trustees, said he is aware of periodic threats made to the centre during his 40-plus years in Jacksonville and is thankful that nothing like this has ever happened.

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