FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
FRIDAY, MAY 21, 2004
TDD (202) 514-1888
EL PASO, MAN INDICTED FOR THREATENING VIOLENCE
TO OBSTRUCT FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights R. Alexander Acosta and United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas Johnny Sutton today announced the indictment of Jared Bjarnason for threatening violence in order to obstruct members of the Islamic Center of El Paso, El Paso, Texas, in the free exercise of their religion, and for transmitting a communication containing a threat to injure members of the Islamic Center.
The indictment, returned by a federal grand jury in El Paso, alleges that on April 18, 2004, Bjarnason, a 30-year-old resident of El Paso, sent an electronic mail message to the Islamic Center threatening violence against the Islamic Center and its members, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 247 and 875. Specifically, the message allegedly threatened to burn the Islamic Center’s mosque to the ground, if hostages held in Iraq were not freed within three days.
In investigating the alleged threat, the El Paso office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation employed a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act, that permits providers of electronic mail services to provide electronic communications directly to law enforcement officials “if the provider reasonably believes that an emergency involving immediate danger of death or serious physical injury to any person justifies disclosure of the information.”
With the Patriot Act’s authority, agents of the FBI were able to trace the allegedly threatening
e-mail well before the expiration of the deadline contained in the threat. Absent this provision, investigating authorities would have had to obtain a separate search warrant from each service provider through whose system the e-mail traveled, a process which could have taken over 30 days.
The crimes charged are punishable by up to twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The next step in the proceedings will be the arraignment when the defendant will be asked to enter a plea to the charges. No trial date has been set.
The Civil Rights Division, FBI, and United States Attorneys’ Offices have investigated approximately 560 incidents of alleged bias-motivated crimes against individuals perceived to be of Middle Eastern origin since September 11, 2001. There have been 13 federal prosecutions of 18 defendants to date. In addition, there have been approximately 125 state and local prosecutions initiated.
The case was investigated by the FBI, and is being prosecuted jointly by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas and the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division.
The indictment contains information alleging criminal conduct by Jared Bjarnason, however, the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.