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Burrito DNA leads to arrest in Mother’s Day firebombing of anti-abortion group’s office

Madison anti-abortion office firebombing

Damage is seen in the interior of Wisconsin Family Action headquarters in Madison, in what prosecutors say is the aftermath of a firebombing of the anti-abortion organization. (Alex Shur/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

Nearly a year after the Mother’s Day firebombing took place, federal prosecutors claim that they found the man who tossed a Molotov cocktail at the office of an anti-abortion group in Madison, Wisconsin.

Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury, a 29-year-old from Madison, was arrested on Tuesday morning in Boston Logan International Airport, where authorities say he had a one-way ticket to Guatemala.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of maliciously trying to damage and destroy a building, by means of fire or an explosive.

The statute was amended to include mandatory minimum and maximum sentences under the Antiterrorism Act of 1996.

“If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either”

On the early morning of Mother’s Day 2022, authorities responded to reports of a fire inside Wisconsin Family Action headquarters in Madison. Police arrived on the scene at around 6:02 a.m., after receiving a 911 call from a citizen who saw flames in the window.

There, they observed that the third window from the west end was broken. Authorities say that a mason jar in the area where books were on fire had the hallmarks of a Molotov cocktail, along with a red handkerchief wrapped around the edge of the windowpane glass. As they walked along the building’s perimeter, police say that they found a message in large, black spray-painted graffiti: “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

On the building’s south side, other graffiti had an “A” in a circle and “1312,” slang for “All cops are bastards.”

The incident occurred days after the leak of the draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the Supreme Court opinion that overruled Roe v. Wade, guaranteeing abortion rights.

Through police work, DNA technology and handwriting analysis, the FBI says that it found the perpetrator less than a year later.

“Violence is never an acceptable way for anyone to express their views or their disagreement,” Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division said in a statement. “Today’s arrest demonstrates the FBI’s commitment to vigorously pursue those responsible for this dangerous attack and others across the country, and to hold them accountable for their criminal actions.”

Wisconsin Family Action’s identity is thinly veiled in court papers as “Organization A,” whose president was interviewed after the attack. That official said that the organization received threats in the past from those who disagreed with their politics — but not that week.

“Partially eaten burrito”

Authorities sent the suspected Molotov cocktail to the offices of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).

“One DNA profile discovered during the forensic process indicates that a male profile, ‘Male 1,’ appears to be present on swabs from the top and bottom of the window glass, swabs from the exterior of the glass jar, swabs from the body of the lighter as well as swabs of the black and silver top of the lighter, including the ignition wheel and button of the lighter, and swabs from the exterior of the Molotov cocktail, and the blue cloth used in that Molotov cocktail,” the FBI affidavit supporting the criminal complaint states.

On Jan. 21, 2023, police monitored a demonstration outside Wisconsin’s state capitol, protesting a shooting by police in Georgia. There, authorities noticed similar graffiti left outside the building, this time with the message: “We will get revenge.” Authorities sent comparisons between the two messages to the FBI for analysis.

Eyeing the suspects who appeared on the video, police say they spotted one of them on surveillance footage getting into a white Toyota Tacoma pickup truck. Authorities matched that license plate to Roychowdhury, after tying his address to his Instagram profile.

Earlier this month, police saw Roychowdhury holding a fast food bag that he tossed in the trash. It contained a “partially eaten burrito wrapped in waxed paper,” which contained DNA matching that of the Molotov cocktail, according to the complaint.

Roychowdhury then traveled from Madison, Wisconsin, to Portland, Maine, before making the trip to Boston for his international flight. He was arrested at the airport.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division said that Roychowdhury tried to “terrorize and intimidate a private organization.”

A federal court in Boston set a detention hearing for Thursday at 2 p.m.

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."