Saying they will not tolerate interference with the right to worship, federal prosecutors announced Thursday that a Texas man has been charged with calling in a bomb threat to an Islamic center that is building a mosque in Tennessee.
Javier Alan Correa, 24, of Corpus Christi was indicted on two charges, including a civil rights violation, by a federal grand jury in Nashville, according to U.S. Attorney Jerry E. Martin.
According to the indictment, Correa, who had not surrendered, called the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro and left a voice message on September 5 saying, among other things, "On September 11, 2011, there's going to be a bomb in the building." That date was the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic center said the indictment showed that the United States is a "nation of law."
"We are used to messages of 'go back home' and 'you worship a false God,' " Bahloul said. "This message is different."
Bahloul turned the phone recording over to authorities.
"Today's indictment should send a message loud and clear," Martin said. "The Department of Justice will not tolerate violence or threat of violence against the Muslim community here in Murfreesboro. If you engage in this type of illegal conduct, we will come after you. The right to worship and assemble is a bedrock guarantee of this great nation."
The construction site for the mosque has been vandalized multiple times, Martin said.
Federal agencies offered a $20,000 reward in their investigation of an August 2010 arson that damaged construction equipment at the site.
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has existed for more than a decade, but the fight over the new mosque erupted when planning commissioners approved the 52,960-square-foot building on Veals Road.
The backlash was stinging and included lawsuits and the arson.
A sign announcing the mosque was spray-painted with the words "Not Welcome."
A Rutherford County judge ruled last month that plans for the building are now "void and of no effect."
Chancellor Robert Corlew said the planning commission violated state law by not providing proper public notice. The county has since been blocked from granting an occupancy permit.
Construction on the mosque has continued. It might be completed by July 20, in time to observe Ramadan, Islam's holy month, if the Islamic center receives the permit.
Bahloul said the majority of people in Rutherford County are accepting of the Muslim community.
Correa is charged with one count of intentionally obstructing by threat of force the free exercise of religious beliefs and one count of using an instrument of interstate commerce to communicate a threat to destroy a building by means of an explosive device.
He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years for one count and 10 years for the second, as well as a fine of up to $250,000 for each offense, officials said.
David Boling, spokesman for Martin, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said he could not comment on the specifics of the case against Correa.
A Corpus Christi phone number for Correa was not operating Thursday afternoon. A message left with the federal public defender's office was not immediately returned.
Bahloul said he had mixed feelings over the charges.
"I feel that American values prevailed, but I feel bad for his family," he said.