JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 69-year-old man whose East Arlington home was raided Friday night was planning a mass shooting of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and FBI announced Monday.
Sheriff Mike Williams said Bernandino Bolatete's plan came to law enforcement's attention from a tip in October. An undercover officer contacted him and they met on several occasions at local gun ranges. Williams said Bolatete confirmed to the undercover detective in secretly recorded conversations that he hated Muslims and outlined his idea to carry out a mass shooting.
"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," 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.
In a transcript of the conversations included in the criminal complaint, Bolatete said he had five rifles, one an AR-15 that can be converted to the AR-47. He suggested going to the Islamic center 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?"
DOCUMENT: Criminal complaint details charges
Williams said the FBI was notified and plans to protect the center were put into place while the investigation continued. As soon as Bolatete was arrested, the center's imam was informed that "the threat had been neutralized."
"Due to many safeguards we had in place during this investigation, at no time were he or of the members of his congregation at risk," FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer said.
Ashraf Shaikh, chairman of the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida's board of trustees, said he is aware of periodic threats made to the center during his 40-plus years in Jacksonville and is thankful that nothing like this has ever happened.
"It's very sad that something like this was being planned or threatened in Jacksonville," Shaikh said. "Thank God that out law enforcement (agencies) were vigilant, that they got wind of it and handled it very professionally."
According to the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office on Friday, Bolatete repeated expressed his hatred of Muslims. Bolatete said that while he lived in the Philippines, he got into an argument with a police officer. Bolatete told the undercover detective that the policeman shot him, so he fired back and killed the officer.
A former co-worker of Bolatete told News4Jax that it was a “huge shock” to learn of his arrest for plotting to shoot up the Islamic Center.
He’s a sweet old man who wouldn’t hurt a fly,” she said, adding he never said anything about hating Muslims.
The woman said co-workers were aware that Bolatete had guns and went to a shooting range in St Johns County, but as for plotting a mass shooting, “You just never know.”
A bond hearing for Bolatete is set for Tuesday afternoon at the U.S. District Courthouse in Jacksonville.
In addition to the JSO and FBI, the Federal Department of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney's Office and State Attorney's Office cooperated in the investigation, which is continuing. Williams said Bolatete could face additional charges.