PENSACOLA, Fla. — Authorities arrested an Alabama man Thursday on federal charges of setting a New Year's fire that gutted a Florida Panhandle abortion clinic long targeted by violence and protests.
Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, of Tuscaloosa was charged with violating federal explosives laws and is being held at the Escambia County Jail pending indictment, the state fire marshal's office said. It was not immediately known if he had a lawyer. He could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
The office said tips from the Pensacola community led to Rogers' arrest.
The two-story clinic that was gutted by flames early Sunday has been attacked before. It was bombed on Christmas Day in 1984, and in 1994 a doctor and a volunteer who escorted patients to and from the clinic were shot to death as they arrived. The gunman, Paul Hill, was executed in 2003.
No one was hurt in Sunday's fire, which was reported around 1 a.m.
Investigators said the blaze began behind the two-story clinic in a wooded area and that the building burned without notice for a while because of the dense fog that had settled over the region that morning.
Investigators from a federal joint terrorism task force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined the investigation headed by the state fire marshal. The fire marshal referred questions about details of Rogers' arrested on Thursday to the U.S. Attorney's office. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office did not immediately return phone calls.
Rogers could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted on charges related to the use of explosives, a news release from the fire marshal's office stated.
American Family Planning has been the site of near-daily protests with anti-abortion activists carrying Bibles, crosses and signs, but the violence that marked the clinic in the mid1990s had stopped before the New Year's blaze.
Pensacola was the site of other abortion-related violence in 1993 when Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed at another clinic by an abortion protester.