Authorities: Man, 69, Planned Mass Shooting At Islamic Center In Jacksonville

Dec 4, 2017

A 69-year-old man whose East Arlington home was raided Friday night was planning a mass shooting at  the Islamic Center of North East 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.

Related: We Can't Lose Site Of 'Big Picture' Says Former Islamic Council Chair About Foiled Attack Plot

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.

JSO Video Of The News Conference

"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.

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 its "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 center were put into place while the investigation continued. The Islamic Center's imam was informed as soon as Bolatete was arrested and "the threat had been neutralized."

"Due to many safeguards we had in place during this investigation, at no time were him or of the members of his congregation at risk," FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer said.

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.

According to the indictment, after the undercover operative sold Bolatete a silencer for $100, 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.

A bond hearing 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. Williams said Bolatete could face additional charges.