Fifth Incident Linked To Worship Arsonist
May 8, 2003 4:00 pm US/Pacific
Meanwhile, a man arrested on suspicion of trespassing before dawn at a gym on the California State University, Northridge campus was being questioned in connection with the arsons, Assistant Police Chief Jim McDonnell said.
"The person arrested this morning was arrested on an unrelated charge," McDonnell said. "We have not ruled out that person as a suspect. But the investigation is ongoing."
McDonnell did not release the name of the man.
The incident at the educational center occurred Tuesday night and was reported by a witness who ran outside after the cinder block was thrown through the window.
"We can anticipate that trying to get through the window is an attempt to try and burn the location," McDonnell said.
The incident, which has been classified as vandalism, occurred at the Deet Torah Educational Center in Encino, just blocks away from the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue that was firebombed Wednesday morning.
All the attacks have been brazen, rapid and seemingly indiscriminate. The targeted houses of worship represent a variety of faiths and were set afire by someone bold enough to operate in daylight and even in the shadow of a fire station.
"We've got a lot of frightened people," said Earl Fagin, vice president of operations for the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council, which has 350 member congregations from 35 different religions.
"There are always rumors and speculation about how these incidents occur and why they occur, and we don't want any religion to be targeted," he said.
The arson spree began April 26 at the First Presbyterian Church of Encino, located next to a fire station. The fire gutted a church office and caused an estimated $20,000 in damage.
Two other blazes occurred Monday. One was reported at the Bahai Community Center, where most of the congregation is Iranian. Nearly 12 hours later, a fire burned the roof of an Iranian synagogue
No injuries were reported in any of the incidents.
More than 150 investigators from local and federal law enforcement agencies were working the case. Authorities were reviewing surveillance video from a bank near the synagogue.
Fire Chief William Bamattre said investigators believe the arsons are likely the work of a single person. He urged the public to remain vigilant, despite the questioning of a possible suspect.
"We don't want them to relax and think the case is closed," Bamattre said.
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