A man accused of brutally murdering a worker at a Florida mosque Thursday morning was apparently motivated not by Islamophobia, but by a delusional belief that he was defending the property of Julius Caesar, investigators say. Police say the suspect used a propane tank to smash a window at the Husseini Islamic Center in Sanford, Seminole County, and beat the 59-year-old facilities manager to death with a shovel after a confrontation inside, WESH reports. The suspect, identified as 38-year-old Ahmed Raslan, then fled in the victim's vehicle and was shot after a confrontation with deputies in Indian River County, more than 100 miles away, police say.
Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma says the suspect made "radical" posts on social media indicating that he believed he was a descendant of Julius Caesar and the mosque was Caesar's property. He also sent the sheriff's office messages asking for help securing the "stolen" property. The building was "not targeted based upon it being a mosque," the sheriff says. "It was targeted because the murderer believed this was Caesar's home." Police say Raslan was hospitalized after he was shot three times in the torso in a Sam's Club parking lot, reports WPBF. He reached into his pocket, made "finger gun" gestures at deputies, and was shot after he dived back into the vehicle, police say.
The mosque serves as a school and daycare center during the day, and Lemma says children might have been killed "if it wasn't for the heroic efforts of our victim trying to confront this threat," CNN reports. Authorities say Raslan apparently didn't know anybody at the mosque. "He always said that I'll protect this place with my life and I think he did," mosque president Mahmood Dhalla says of the victim, whose name has not been released. (Read more Florida stories.)