By Teresa Carson
PORTLAND, Ore (Reuters) - A man with a history of anti-Islamic tirades pleaded not guilty on Thursday to federal arson and hate crime charges stemming from a fire he is accused of setting last year at an Oregon mosque.
The FBI revealed in court documents that Cody Seth Crawford fell under suspicion within hours of the November 28 fire, which was set two days after the highly publicized arrest of a Somali-born teen charged with trying to bomb a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland.
Federal officials have said the mosque attack in Corvallis, about 80 miles south of Portland, may have been perpetrated as retribution for the alleged bomb plot.
Crawford, 24, was arrested without incident on Wednesday after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of arson and damaging religious property in connection with the fire at the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis.
The two-page indictment said Crawford, who lived near the mosque, set the blaze "because of the race, color and ethnic characteristics of ... individuals associated with that property."
"Burning a house of worship because of hatred toward members of one religion is not just an attack on that religion, it is an attack on our core American values," Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a statement announcing the indictment, returned on Wednesday.
If convicted on both counts, Crawford faces a sentence of between 10 and 30 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on Thursday, and his trial was set for October.
According to an FBI affidavit in the case, Crawford had two other brushes with the law in December, after the mosque fire, in which he ranted angrily at police and others against Muslims and called himself a "Christian warrior."
In the first of those incidents, he was arrested on suspicion of harassment and disorderly conduct, and subsequently blurted out, "I'm telling the truth, officer, I didn't burn that mosque."
Two days later, he was hospitalized for psychiatric evaluation after a disturbance in which waved a knife around in his front yard, the affidavit said.
The FBI document also said investigators found Crawford's DNA on a flashlight recovered from the arson scene.
The fire at the mosque in November was confined to one office in the building and nobody was hurt.
But U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said the next day that federal authorities were investigating whether the arson was motivated by the arrest of a Somali-born teen, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, in a sting operation involving a fake bomb he is accused of trying to detonate at a crowded Christmas tree lighting on November 26 in Portland.
Mohamud, now 20, took some classes at Oregon State University in Corvallis and had occasionally attended prayers at the mosque. A naturalized U.S. citizen, he has pleaded not guilty to federal charges and is awaiting trial in Portland.
(Reporting by Teresa Carson in Portland; Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)