Arsonist admits to New Year's fire at nightclub

by: Linzi Sheldon Updated:

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SEATTLE - The arsonist who torched the packed Neighbours nightclub on New Year's Eve admitted in federal court on Friday that he did it.

Both sides agreed on five years in prison, the minimum in federal court for an arson charge, but more than double the potential sentence faced in state court.

Musab Masmari, 30, didn’t say much before Judge Richard Jones, as he admitted to setting the popular gay nightclub on fire with about 750 people inside.

Prosecutors said Masmari entered Neighbours just before midnight on New Year's Eve with a one-gallon gasoline container. Just after midnight, he poured some of that gas onto the stairs, stowed the container behind a planter, and set the gas on fire.

Masmari received a taunting email three days before the event from someone investigators believe knew about Musmari’s self-admitted “distaste for homosexuals.”

Detectives called it “evidence pertinent to hate crime.”

KIRO 7 asked about possible hate crime charges.

Assistant United States Attorney Todd Greenberg said Masmari’s intent will come into play in sentencing.

“I think that the court is going to look at a variety of factors, including the harm that was caused as a result of the crime, the motive for the crime, the defendant’s background characteristics, the defendant’s history,” he said.

Steve Tracy is the general manager of Neighbours.   He told KIRO 7 he was surprised by the plea deal.

"It doesn't really seem like much for what he did, or what his inten was," said Tracy, who plans to be at the sentencing.

"I want to hear what he has to say.  I want to know why," Tracy said.

Masmari is scheduled to be sentenced on July 31. Despite the agreement on Friday, the judge has the power to sentence Masmari to up to 20 years in prison, the maximum for the arson charge.