A New Jersey man is facing federal charges after allegedly igniting and throwing a handmade firebomb at a synagogue.
Nicholas Malindretos, 26, was arrested Wednesday and charged with one count of trying to set fire to Temple Ner Tamid, the Justice Department announced in a press release. Federal authorities say he is the person seen on surveillance video setting fire to a Molotov cocktail and hurling it at the doors of a reform synagogue in Bloomfield, New Jersey, in the early morning hours of Sunday, Jan. 29.
That video shows what authorities say is a white male approaching the temple, lighting a wick at the top of a bottle, and throwing the bottle toward the front doors of the building. A different camera angle captured the bottle shattering as it made contact with the door, which, according to Rabbi Marc Katz, had recently been reinforced.
The suspect is then seen fleeing on foot. According to court documents, he was wearing a “black ski mask covering his entire face but for his eyes.” He was also wearing a “black or dark gray hooded sweatshirt with a white emblem of what appeared to be a skull and cross bones,” black pants, dark shoes, and “white cloth gloves,” the complaint also says.
License plate cameras identified a black sedan located in the area around the time of the attempted attack. Law enforcement found that car in nearby Clifton, New Jersey, days later.
Inside the car were several items that matched what was seen on the surveillance video.
“Several objects were plainly observable inside the Vehicle through the window of the Vehicle,” the criminal complaint says. “Specifically, on the front seat was a hooded sweatshirt (consistent with the Sweatshirt observed in the Video), white cloth items that appeared to be made of material similar to the Gloves that the Defendant was wearing in the Video, and bottles of unidentified liquids.”
Video cameras in the area also recorded the car being parked and “a male individual with the same individual characteristics” as the suspect getting out and entering a two-story building, authorities said.
The owner of that building told law enforcement that Malindretos lived in the basement.
On Wednesday, the car was searched, and law enforcement recovered what it said was a black sweatshirt, white cloth gloves, and a mask consistent with what was on the temple’s surveillance video.
The Essex County Sheriff’s Office had offered up to $10,000 as a reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible. It was not immediately clear whether that reward would be collected, and the sheriff’s office did not reply to Law&Crime’s inquiry in time for publication.
Malindretos is charged with one count of attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce. According to the Justice Department, he faces a minimum of five years and a maximum of 20 years in prison if convicted, and a potential fine of up to $250,000.
His first court appearance is scheduled for Thursday.
Bloomfield police had originally described the attack as a “bias incident” and “attempted arson.” The arrest comes amid an uptick in antisemitic attacks on Jewish organizations and people in recent years.
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