US authorities said on Monday (4 December) that they foiled a mass shooting at a Jacksonville mosque and have arrested a man, who reportedly made a specific threat to "shoot up" the Islamic Centre in Florida state to give Muslims "a taste of their own medicine".
Bernandino Gawala Bolatete, a Filipino immigrant and a Green Card holder, was charged without incident for knowingly receiving and possessing a gun silencer from an undercover officer. The arrest was reportedly made based on a tip-off and an undercover operation.
US Attorney's office said if convicted, the 69-year-old could face up to 10 years in federal prison.
Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams told reporters that the man came under investigation by his office and the Jacksonville FBI after a citizen tipped them off in October. The person had reportedly told the bureau that Bolatete "expressed a hatred for Muslims and made a specific threat to 'shoot up' a mosque".
An undercover investigation later confirmed that "the suspect was making plans to carry out a mass shooting, and he already had the weaponry necessary to complete the attack", Williams added.
The undercover agent first established friendship with Bolatete and began recording their conversations. The old man had asked the detective to make arrangements to get a silencer delivered to his home on 1 December and instructed him to prevent any paperwork.
"I just want to give these freaking people a taste of their own medicine, you know," Bolatete had allegedly told the undercover officer, referring to Muslims, according to a criminal complaint filed by the FBI.
The suspect had also told the undercover agent that he did not plan to get caught by police following the mass shooting, instead would kill himself at the shooting site. His chances of survival were anyways bleak, he told the officer, as he was surviving on only one kidney that was only 31% functional. "If I ever decide to do that I'm not thinking of getting caught. I'll ... I'll die there in that area," the suspect had said.
Bolatete had also told the undercover officer that he had five guns in his possession, including an AR-15 that could be converted to an AR-47, and that he would carry out the attack on a Friday because Muslims attend mosque on that day.
FBI Special Agent Charles Spencer said more charges could be pressed against the suspect following the completion of the investigation.
Spencer also said that authorities searched Bolatete's home but did not elaborate on what they found. He said the mosque has been informed about the foiled plot and the investigation.