[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
Musab Mohammad Masmari, the man who
tried to burn down a popular gay bar in Seattle on a packed New Year’s
Eve, has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
handed down on Thursday, was considered exceptionally stiff, after Masmari had agreed to a plea bargain on arson charges only, meaning he would not face the federal hate-crime charges that were considered in the case. According to the Seattle Times, the sentence more than doubled the time agreed to in the plea bargain.
Masmari, a 30-year-old American
citizen of Libyan extraction and upbringing, was caught on camera as he
carried a container filled with gasoline through Neighbours, a popular
bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, on New Year’s Eve. Shortly
afterwards, patrons smelled smoke and found the container on the landing
to a set of stairs engulfed in flames; their prompt action quickly
doused the fire.
An estimated 750 people were in the bar at the time, and the matter quickly became a hate crime investigation.
“It was just a great thing that people acted as fast as they did to put
out the fire,” a police spokesperson said. “We could have had mass,
mass casualties, and we’re very lucky that that didn’t happen.”
Some of the people present at the bar that night were in the
courtroom during Masmari’s sentencing hearing on Thursday. Shaun
Knittel, a Seattle LGBT-community activist, said he and others in the
community were “disgusted” with the plea bargain’s five-year sentence.
Neighbours, he said, was packed that night with “people who are
irreplaceable to us.”
“This was a blatant attack on our lives,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez told the courtroom he would use
his discretion to impose the exceptional sentence because Masmari had
clearly targeted his victims because they were gay, and because of the
possibility of a huge loss of life.
Masmari, who claimed in a presentencing statement that he had blacked
out that night after drinking a bottle of whiskey, did not speak during
the hearing. His attorney said the stiff sentence was not entirely a
surprise, “due to the political nature of this case.”