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FBI arrests Michigan man for planning to attack synagogue

Sean Pietila, 19, was allegedly plotting a mass shooting of a synagogue in East Lansing, Mich.

East Lansing, Mich. Source: Wikimedia Commons
East Lansing, Mich. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation on Friday arrested a 19-year-old Michigan man for allegedly planning a mass shooting at a synagogue in East Lansing.

Sean Pietila from the Upper Peninsula town of Pickford faces charges of transmitting in interstate commerce a threat to injure someone, after investigators found a message on the suspect’s phone detailing the plot to attack the Jewish house of worship, with a date and a list of equipment including pipe bombs, firebombs, multiple assault rifles and a shotgun. He then planned to kill himself.

The FBI discovered the phone notes after receiving a report of threatening social media messages on Instagram, Pinterest and Discord, which prompted the execution of a search warrant for his home.

These messages included praise for Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and other antisemitic writings, as well as expressing support for neo-Nazis and past mass shooters.

During the search of Pietila’s home, investigators found multiple weapons, tactical vests, a gas mask and a Nazi flag.

The attack was planned for March 15, 2024, which is the five-year anniversary of the mass shootings of two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand carried out by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, that killed 51 and wounded 40.

Pietila also praised Anders Behring Breivik, who on July 22, 2011, killed 77 people and wounded more than 320 during attacks in Oslo and at a summer camp on the island of Utøya.

“Antisemitic threats and violence against our Jewish communities—or any other group for that matter—will not be tolerated in the Western District of Michigan,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “Today and every day we take all credible threats seriously.”

The arrest came on the same day that Robert Bowers, the gunman who killed 11 worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, was convicted by a federal jury on all 63 charges against him.

These charges include 11 capital counts each of obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs resulting in death and of using a firearm to commit murder; and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

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