Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Threatening Muslim Grocers

(CN) – A Florida man faces prison time after pleading guilty to threatening the owners of two Muslim grocery stores in South Florida.

James Benjamin Jones, 35, pleaded guilty to two counts of federal hate crimes for the threats made last summer.

According to plea proceedings, Jones told the owner of Ft. Myers-based Halal Meat and Grocery to shut down his store within a month or “four people will come with guns and they will blow up” the man. Jones then said he planned to “blow up all Muslims and get this land back.”

A month later, Jones approached the owner of Sahara Mediterranean Market and told him “for your safety and your family’s safety, you got two months to go, to leave,” court documents say.

Hate crimes against Muslims have spiked in recent years. In 2015, the FBI reported 257 incidents of anti-Muslim hate crimes – a 67 percent increase from 2014. A bulk of these incidents – including arson of mosques and bomb threats — occurred in Florida.

“The defendant made violent threats in an attempt to extinguish people’s economic livelihood simply because of their religion,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler in a statement. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously prosecuting the federal laws that prohibit such conduct.”

A sentencing date has not me set.