Suspect in N.J. Synagogue Arsons Apparently Planned Another Attack

A Jewish community center in Paramus, N.J., apparently was a potential target of a 19-year-old New Jersey man arrested for two synagogue firebombings, authorities say.  In one of those bombings, a rabbi and eight members of his family narrowly awoke in time to escape their burning living quarters.

Anthony M. Graziano, who apparently acted as a “lone wolf,” was arrested last Monday, just three days after Bergen County authorities and the FBI released surveillance video and photos and posted a $7,500 reward.

Graziano’s arrest led authorities to search 70 other synagogues and Jewish community centers within 10 miles of the suspect’s home. As part of that expanded search, investigators found multiple Molotov cocktails and a bicycle in a wooded area near the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said at a Friday press conference.

The firebombs and a bicycle subsequently were tied to the suspect, who was positively identified, then arrested following public release of surveillance photos.

The photos, taken Jan. 9 at a Walmart in Saddle Brook, N.J., show a young man buying Crush Soda pop, low-grade motor oil, duct tape and hairspray – ingredients authorities determined where used in at least one of the firebombings.

On Jan. 1, a Molotov cocktail was hurled through a window at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, N.J., igniting the second-floor bedroom of Rabbi Nosson Schuman. The rabbi, his wife, their five children and his parents were asleep at the time, and narrowly escaped.

That arson followed a similar attack on Jan. 3 at Congregation K’Hal Adath Jeshuran in Paramus. There, when members smelled gasoline, authorities discovered a small fire in the rear of the building that had been started with an accelerant but burned itself out before causing significant damage.

“The Jewish community in New Jersey was tremendously on edge, not only because the firebombs could have taken lives and destroyed synagogues, but also because around the same time there was also a rash of synagogue daubings with swastikas, white supremacist symbols, and claims that ‘Jews did 9/11.’” Ken Stern, the American Jewish Committee’s director of  anti-Semitism and extremism, told Hatewatch.

Graziano hasn’t been officially linked to anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed last month on a Hackensack synagogue  that read “Jews Did 9/11” and “14/88.” The latter is a white supremacist slogan for the “14 Words” legacy of the late racist David Lane, and “88” is the neo-Nazi numerical abbreviation for “Heil Hitler.”

“Fortunately, police, public officials and interreligious partners joined with Jewish communal groups to ensure that these cases had the highest priority,” Stern said.  “Additionally, there was an important community forum demonstrating that an attack on anyone’s house of worship was considered an attack on all houses of worship.”

Graziano was arraigned Wednesday on multiple felonies, including nine counts of attempted murder, bias intimidation, arson and aggravated arson. He was ordered held in jail under a $5 million bond. Graziano also is now charged with aggravated arson and bias intimidation for the planned attack on the community center.

“We have no doubt that the arson and attempted murder in Rutherford were a direct result of Mr. Graziano’s hatred of people of the Jewish faith,” Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

The news website nj.com reported that “multiple tipsters were integral to identifying Graziano, an unemployed 2010 graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School, as the alleged perpetrator.” It’s not known if anyone is in line for the $7,500 reward.

After Graziano was arrested, investigators searched a home in Lodi, N.J., where he lives with his mother and siblings. Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said evidence taken from Graziano’s room “wasn’t the only indication” of the suspect’s anti-Semitic views, but he wouldn’t elaborate, The Associated Press reported.

Authorities have not disclosed what was taken in the search of the suspect’s home or whether he has been linked to any white supremacist organizations.