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Washington state man sentenced to 10 years for torching gay club

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A Washington state man was sentenced to 10 years in prison on Thursday for setting fire to a popular Seattle gay nightclub packed with New Year's Eve revelers.

No one was badly hurt in the Dec. 31, 2013, attack on Neighbors, a decades-old establishment filled with 750 people when Musab Mohammed Masmari, 30, doused a carpeted stairway with gasoline and set it alight.

Club patrons and employees quickly extinguished the flames.

Masmari pleaded guilty in May to one federal count of first-degree arson. He was never charged with a hate crime in connection with the incident, but prosecutors maintained his actions were driven by bias.

"Motivated by ignorance and intolerance, this defendant put more than 700 lives at risk when he purposely started a fire at a crowded nightclub on New Year's Eve," U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement.

"We are fortunate that the workers acted so quickly – or we may have had a horrific tragedy," she said.

While issuing the 10-year prison sentence, twice the length recommended by defense attorneys and prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Martinez cited how many people might have been killed or badly hurt.

"But for the actions of some very quick-thinking folks, we could have a very serious tragedy," the judge said.

Masmari was captured on surveillance video entering the club around 11:30 p.m. through a side entrance, apparently to evade club security, prosecutors said.

He was carrying a one gallon tank of gas hidden in a shopping bag and just after midnight doused a stairway with the fuel and lit it, then ran from the club, according to court documents.

He was arrested by Seattle police and the FBI in February as he tried to board a one-way flight to Turkey. Masmari is an American citizen born in California to Libyan parents.

Masmari's attorney said he plans to appeal the sentence.

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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