Connecticut man charged with hate crime for shooting at mosque

By Scott Malone

(Reuters) - A Connecticut man was charged on Friday with a federal hate crime offense for allegedly shooting at the mosque he lived near after spending the night drinking at a local bar following the deadly Paris attacks by Islamic State militants on Nov. 13.

Prosecutors said Ted Hakey, 48, of Meriden, fired four shots at the building in the early morning hours of Nov. 14 after learning of the Paris attacks. The Baitul Aman Mosque was vacant at the time of the shooting and no one was injured.

A family of two adults and three children discovered the damage at the mosque, located about 20 miles (32 km) south of Hartford, the next day when they went to pray, prosecutors said in court papers.

"This arrest should serve as a clear message that crimes of hate against individuals of any race, creed, gender or religious background will not be tolerated," said FBI Special-Agent-in-Charge Patricia Ferrick.

Investigators searched Hakey's house after determining that was the direction the bullets had come from and seized 24 firearms, more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition and a bulletproof vest, prosecutors said. They also discovered paraphernalia related to the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.

Hakey told investigators he had fired off a handgun and rifle in his yard following a night of drinking but denied intending to hit the mosque, according to court papers. A search by investigators of his Facebook postings contained numerous comments in which he said he said he "hated(d) Muslims."

Hakey was arrested on Thursday and appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in New Haven on Friday, where a magistrate judge ordered him detained, prosecutors said.

An attorney for Hakey could not be reached for immediate comment.

If convicted of intentionally damaging religious property with a dangerous weapon, Hakey could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison and fined up to $250,000.

The Nov. 13 Paris attacks, in which gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people, and the Dec. 2 San Bernardino, California, shooting rampage, in which a married couple inspired by Islamic State killed 14, has raised tensions in relations between Muslim Americans and other communities in the United States.

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the country following the San Bernardino attack and more than half the nation's governors said they wanted to prevent refugees fleeing Syria's civil war from entering their states.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Dan Grebler)