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FBI: Still Unclear Why Suspect Targeted Jacksonville Mosque

10:05 AM, May 6, 2011   |    comments
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MORE: Read the 18-page affidavit on Smith

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The suspect in the 2010 bombing of an Islamic center was armed when he emerged from the tent agents had surrounded Wednesday.  

A St. Johns County man, Sandlin Smith, 46, was shot to death during the confrontation with federal agents trying to serve him a search warrant in Oklahoma.

"I know that when he came out of the tent, he was armed and he was a threat to the agents. I don't know whether he shot first or shot at all," said Special Agent in Charge James Casey, in Jacksonville today.

The Islamic Center of Northeast Florida was damaged in May 2010 after a pipe bomb planted there during evening prayers exploded. FBI officials said at the time it caused about $500 worth of damage, but was still a powerful bomb. No one was injured.

"An attack on a house of worship is an attack on all houses of worship," said Jacksonville councilman John Crescimbeni, who was at a news conference held outside the mosque this morning.

Jeff Westcott, a spokesman for the FBI, said in the earlier stages of the investigation, the FBI released two pieces of surveillance video, asking the public's help in finding a suspect. A second video turned out to be a man not connected with the bombing or with Smith.

However, the FBI executed a search warrant, interviewed him in mid-November and gave him a polygraph test, before shifting focus away from him.

The man said he had created a disturbance at the mosque, but there was no reason to think he was in any way linked to the bombing, according to Westcott. He has never been charged in relation to the case.

Ashraf Shaikh, the center's co-founder, said today that while it is sad that Smith's life was lost, but this brings closure. Others said this should serve as a warning to anyone involved in similar crimes.

Shaikh called the naming of Smith as a suspect, "closure."

Today, Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford praised those who invested thousands of hours in the case, calling it a collaborative effort. He described the bombing as an "an act of hate."

He described Smith as a "lone wolf."

It is unclear why Smith was in Oklahoma. "He had friends in Texas. I don't know if he ever went to Texas but I think he might have been heading that way," said Casey. 

Westcott said the FBI had some information that he might be heading west, but did not know exactly where he was until Tuesday night.

The reason behind his target is a mystery. Aside from the fact that the center is a prominent mosque, there is no clear reason why Smith targeted it, said Casey.

The FBI confirmed that Smith had driven by at some point before the bombing and that he had mentioned the mosque to others.

The Islamic Center is located on St. Johns Bluff Road South. 

First Coast News

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