Federal hate crime charges filed in Seattle mosque attack

By Scott North

Herald Writer

SEATTLE — A Snohomish man now faces federal charges that could put him in prison for up to 20 years for allegedly violating the civil rights of Muslims who were worshipping at a north Seattle mosque after the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings in New York and Washington, D.C.

Patrick Michael Cunningham, 53, already is charged in King County Superior Court with first-degree assault and attempted second-degree arson stemming from the Sept. 13 incident.

Prosecutors allege he attempted to burn a Jeep parked outside the Idriss Mosque and then shot a handgun in the direction of worshippers.

The four-count federal indictment charges Cunningham with obstructing free exercise of religion, attempting to deface religious property, attempting to damage and destroy a building, and using a firearm in a crime of violence.

"As this federal indictment makes clear, acts of violence and vigilantism targeted at individuals because of their race, religion or national origin will not be tolerated," U.S. Attorney Francis Diskin said in a prepared statement. "They will be aggressively investigated and swiftly prosecuted, and the government will seek a substantial punishment."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Gonzalez said the federal charges are separate from those facing Cunningham in King County. No decision has been made whether he’ll face prosecution in both jurisdictions.

Cunningham allegedly was spotted outside the mosque just before 11 p.m. on Sept. 13, two days after the terrorist attacks.

People leaving the mosque smelled gasoline and realized that it had been dumped on one of the worshipper’s vehicles. They also spotted a man walking away with a red gas can.

When confronted and told he couldn’t leave, the man allegedly pulled a .22-caliber revolver and threatened to shoot. He then pulled the trigger several times before the handgun fired a single shot into the ground.

The man climbed in his car and drove away, later crashing the vehicle into a pole, an accident that left him injured.

Cunningham was arrested after witnesses at the mosque identified him as the man they spotted with the gas can and gun. A pistol was found on the back seat of his car with a single spent shell inside.

You can call Herald Writer Scott North at 425-339-3431

or send e-mail to north@heraldnet.com.

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