Man gets 15 years for Somali cafe attack in North Dakota

September 6, 2016 7:28 PM EDT

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By Eric M. Johnson

(Reuters) - An American man who threw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a Somali restaurant in North Dakota was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Tuesday over what federal prosecutors said was an act of "hate violence."

Matthew Gust, a 26-year-old of Grand Forks, North Dakota, pleaded guilty to arson and hate-crime charges on May 19, Vanita Gupta, head of the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.

Gust in a plea agreement admitted that he threw a lighted beer bottle filled with gasoline into the Juba Café in Grand Forks in the early morning hours of Dec. 8 to "intimidate and interfere with the Somali employees and patrons," Gupta said, calling Gust a perpetrator of "hate violence."

An attorney for Gust did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The North Dakota incident came a little more a month after Islamic State's Nov. 13 gun and bomb attacks on entertainment sites around Paris, France, that left dozens dead.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a U.S.-based Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, said it had received more reports of discrimination, intimidation, threats and violence targeting Muslim-Americans in the wake of the Paris siege than during any other period since the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States in 2001. Somalia is heavily Muslim.

In the North Dakota incident, the early-morning explosion and fire caused more than $250,000 in damage, federal prosecutors said.

It took local firefighters roughly 20 minutes to put out the blaze, authorities said at the time.

Gust had earlier been indicted by a grand jury for using a destructive device in the commission of a crime, though that charge was dismissed as part of a plea agreement, federal prosecutors said.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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