Authorities nabbed a 26-year-old man they say threw a Molotov cocktail at the front door of a New Jersey synagogue in an “attempted firebombing” a few hours after the Sabbath.
Nicholas Malindretos, of Clifton, was caught Wednesday after police found clothing in his car matching those worn in the on-camera attack on the Temple Ner Tamid Jewish Congregation in Bloomfield, federal prosecutors announced.
“No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith,” US Attorney Philip Sellinger said in a statement. “The defendant is alleged to have gone to a synagogue in the middle of the night and maliciously attempted to damage and destroy it using a firebomb.”
Footage captured Malindretos — wearing a black ski mask, a dark hooded sweatshirt with a skull and crossbones emblem and white gloves — sauntering up to the synagogue around 3:20 a.m. Sunday and lighting the Molotov cocktail before fleeing on foot, officials allege.
The bottle exploded but didn’t cause any damage to the temple. No one was inside at the time, and the remnants of the bomb weren’t discovered until 9:30 a.m.
Police, who labeled the attack a “bias incident,” immediately scoured neighborhood surveillance footage and noticed that a black Volkswagen sedan passed a nearby intersection 15 minutes before the masked assailant threw the bottle. The same car reappeared in the opposite direction 10 minutes after the attack, the criminal complaint states.
Cops found the car in Clifton Tuesday and were able to see through the windows clothing that appeared similar to the ones the masked assailant wore.
Their suspicions were confirmed the following day when they executed a search warrant and found the mask, sweatshirt and gloves inside Malindretos’ car.
Malindretos was charged with the attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce. He faces a 20-year maximum sentence and a fine of $250,000.
Despite New Jersey police’s belief the attempted bombing was a biased attack, it’s not yet clear whether federal prosecutors will seek hate crime charges.
Rabbi Marc Katz of Temple Ner Tamid had said the synagogue was able to withstand the hate-fueled attack thanks to recent security upgrades funded by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.
“We were able to avert the worst because the device the person was throwing didn’t make it through the front glass doors,” Katz said.
Source: New York Post