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Prosecutor: Teen suspect in 2 NJ synagogue attacks planned to firebomb community center
HACKENSACK, N.J. (AP) ' Authorities leveled additional charges Friday against a teenager accused in the firebombings of two northern New Jersey synagogues, saying he had plotted a similar attack on a Jewish community center and had conducted Internet searches for building Molotov cocktails and instructions on blowing up buildings.
Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said investigators found multiple Molotov cocktails this week in a wooded area near the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, and they traced the evidence to a foiled attack they said suspect Anthony Graziano was planning for Jan. 7.
Graziano, 19, was charged Friday with aggravated arson, bias intimidation and other charges for the planned attack on the Paramus Jewish community center.
Graziano was arrested earlier this week and has already pleaded not guilty to nine counts of attempted murder as well as bias intimidation and arson charges for a Jan. 11 attack on a Rutherford synagogue and a Jan. 3 firebombing of a Paramus synagogue. If convicted on all charges, he could face up to 95 years in prison.
A spokesman for the public defender's office, which is representing Graziano, said Friday he would not comment on the new charges. The lawyer who represented Graziano at his first court appearance earlier this week said he is seeking to have the teen's $5 million bail reduced, and to move the trial venue because of media coverage.
The prosecutor declined to say Friday what investigators had learned about the motives of the unemployed recent high school graduate, but said they believed Graziano's actions were motivated by a hatred of Jews.
"What Mr. Graziano did ... is clearly the result of an anti-Jewish animus, a bias against them; an intent to harm them," Molinelli said. "There are people that might be biased, there are people that might be bigoted, but this is an individual that takes violent action based on that, and that's a crime in New Jersey."
Molinelli said cans of spray paint were found on the steps of the Paramus JCC, and an abandoned bicycle found nearby, on Jan. 7, and both were reported to police.
The findings weren't immediately connected to a string of bias-related incidents in northern New Jersey, Molinelli said.
On the morning of Jan. 3, authorities responded to a fire at Congregation K'Hal Adath Jeshuran in Paramus, when members smelled gas in the building and contacted authorities. Fire and police officials determined an accelerant had been used in the rear of the building to start a fire. The fire had quickly burned itself out, and no injuries were reported.
In the early morning of Jan. 11, police said Molotov cocktails were thrown at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, igniting a fire in the second-floor bedroom of Rabbi Nosson Schuman's residence. The rabbi, his wife, five children and his parents were sleeping at the time.
The attacks kept Jewish residents of the ethnically and religiously diverse communities of Bergen County, part of the New York metropolitan area, on edge for weeks until Graziano's arrest on Jan. 24.
Based on materials used in the Rutherford bombing and authorities' belief that he carried out the alleged attacks using a bicycle as transportation, detectives re-examined the findings at the Paramus JCC and searched a wider area around the perimeter. They found several Molotov cocktails made from glass beer bottles, tied together, stuffed with red bandanas as wicks, and water bottles partially filled with gasoline, discarded in a wooded area about 100 yards from the building, Molinelli said.
Molinelli described Graziano as intelligent and aware of what was happening to him. He said the teenager seemed to be a loner who didn't appear to have much of a social life, adding investigators hadn't found any indication that Graziano belonged to any extremist groups but had evidence that he shared his views with other people, though he didn't specify in what forum.
In addition to searching the Internet for how to build weapons, police found that Graziano had done computer searches for any news coverage of the attacks, Molinelli said. The teen also owned a firearm purchaser ID, which would have allowed him to buy a rifle or a shotgun for hunting purposes, but not a handgun, as he was under the age of 21, Molinelli said. Authorities believe the attacks could point to a pattern of escalation had they not been thwarted by law enforcement, Molinelli said.
"The likelihood that these incidents were getting more severe, were getting more sophisticated and that these incidents could have gotten more deadly as the time went on is certainly existent here," Molinelli said.
Also this week, authorities conducted sweeps of synagogues within a 10-mile radius of Graziano's Lodi home, looking for additional arson materials. Molinelli said the sweeps were precautionary and didn't turn up anything.
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