Eight months after the New Year’s Eve arson of Capitol Hill’s Neighbours nightclub, 31 year-old Musab Masmari, was sentenced to ten years in prison by Judge Ricardo S. Martinez on Thursday, July 31st, after Masmari pleaded guilty to starting the fire.
Despite Masmari’s alleged use of hate speech during the incident, in which a witness said that he had stated that the homosexual attendants of the event should be “exterminated,” neither hate crime or terrorism were among the charges.
“He said he was doing this to save everyone,” said Seattle Police Detective Kerry Hays earlier this year.
However, the sentence of ten years is double what both the prosecution and defense had recommended in Masmari’s plea deal. U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan stated that had the case been handled in state courts rather than federal, the sentence would’ve been far shorter.
“When I heard that Masmari was given the opportunity to confess and receive just five years, which was actually supposed to be a ‘good thing’ because if the feds hadn’t indicted him he would’ve been looking at just two years, I was outraged,” said Shaun Knittel of Social Outreach Seattle, who represented Neighbors as a spokesperson.
“I thought, ‘Where is the attempted murder charge?’ Arson is a crime against a building — not people. When someone sets fire to a building they have a choice to do that with or without people in it. Common sense tells you that if the man jumped the security fence, sneaks into the club from the adjacent bar, and walks into the massive New Year’s Eve crowd he knowingly set the stairs on fire with nearly 800 people inside. If that isn’t attempted murder I don’t know what is.”
Security camera footage showed Masmari carrying a gas canister and entering the popular gay nightclub on January 31st, which had over 750 people inside at the time. Masmari proceeded to dump the fuel inside the nightclub and light a fire before immediately fleeing the premises. Although the smoke from the fire soon set off sprinklers, causing the event to be halted, off-duty members of the Army and Air Force in attendance were able to quickly douse the flames after locating a nearby fire extinguisher. No one was injured.
“This defendant violated people’s right to gather safely: he put more than 700 lives at risk when he purposely started a fire at a crowded nightclub on New Year’s Eve,” wrote Durkan in May.
SPD reports that “numerous” people called in to identify Masmari as the arsonist from the security camera footage, which lead to his arrest in February outside of a house in Bellevue, where he was found carrying a US and Libyan passport as well as a one-way ticket to Turkey.
One of the informants, a friend of Masmari who has remained anonymous, told the FBI in January that he believed Masmari was possibly planning “some terrorist activity” and that he also had previously voiced a “distaste for homosexual people.”
However, Masmari’s defense team issued a written statement last week prior to the sentencing blaming the arson on his drinking rather than an ideological desire to kill homosexuals. In the statement, Masmari claims to have drunk a whole “cheap bottle of whiskey” on the night of the arson, and that he had no recollection of the events that followed.
“I do not believe that I am a bad man but when I get drunk I have done bad things. I swear that it is my intent to never drink again, and if I am offered a second chance at alcohol treatment, I will take it,” wrote Masmari.
Masmari has had other run-ins with law enforcement on Capitol Hill, including an altercation at Deluxe Bar and Grill last July, where Masmari assaulted a man with a pool cue. Although the victim was able to wrestle the cue away from Masmari during the altercation, Masmari fled on foot before being tackled by other patrons.
The victim, identified only as “Matt,” stated that Masmari was acting in revenge after being reported to the SPD for having passed out in his vehicle. The day before the assault took place, Matt reported that Masmari had followed him while driving, and attempted to side-swipe his Mitsubishi convertible into Matt’s car.
Masmari was convicted of the assault in December of last year, only three weeks before the arson at neighbors. He had been released on a $5,000 appeals bond, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail on January 16th, two weeks after the arson attempt. He has also reportedly been accused of harassing women, with one having filed a protection order against him.
“Masmari is a menace who has a record of harassing people and causing trouble. He is known throughout Capitol Hill as someone who is unstable and troubled,” said Knittel. “It shouldn’t take 750 charred bodies for something to be done and Neighbours staff was not about to sacrifice even one body for an arrest and longer sentence.”