BOSTON (Reuters) - A Massachusetts man was arrested and charged on Tuesday with threatening on Facebook to burn down a Boston mosque in the wake of the November attacks in Paris, where Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people.
Patrick Keogan, a 44-year-old resident of the Boston suburb of Winchester, was charged with making a criminal threat over the internet and with being a convicted felon illegally in possession of ammunition, federal prosecutors said.
The day after the deadly Paris attack, Keogan posted an image on the Facebook page of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center showing a mosque in flames with the caption “burn your local mosque,” prosecutors said.
In court papers, they said leaders of the Islamic Center opted to report the threat because it followed so closely on the Paris attacks, “although it is not uncommon for the ISBCC to receive hateful and anti-Muslim messages.”
Keogan could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the charges.
A lawyer for Keogan could not immediately be reached for comment.
Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society, thanked the FBI and prosecutors for pursuing the case.
“This sends a really clear message to the Boston, Massachusetts, community and really the whole world that Boston embraces its Muslims,” Vali said.
When FBI officials interviewed Keogan by phone before his arrest, he said he was “sorry and that he needs to smarten up as he is too old to act this way,” according to court papers. Keogan also told the FBI that he had not intended to harm anyone.
Prosecutors said an investigation into Keogan revealed he was buying ammunition, which he was legally prohibited from doing after convictions on charges including assault and battery.
A series of deadly attacks by Islamic State militants and those inspired by the group have rocked cities in the United States and Europe over the past few months and triggered a wave of threats against mosques.
Last month, a Connecticut man was sentenced to six months in prison after shooting at an unoccupied mosque near his Meriden home late at night after the Paris attacks. No one was hurt in the incident.
A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found the number of threats against mosques in the United States hit a record high of 78 last year, the most since the group began tracking such incidents in 2009.
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Grant McCool