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Man arrested in connection with fires at LA houses of worship

Saturday, May 10, 2003

Associated Press Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Police arrested a man Friday for investigation of arson in connection with five attacks on houses of worship in the San Fernando Valley.

The suspect, whose name was withheld, was taken into custody at 1:05 a.m. on a street in Westwood, said Mary Grady, a police spokeswoman. He was booked at the Van Nuys jail on suspicion of arson.

"This is somebody counterterrorism investigators have had under surveillance," Grady said. "They are not ready to say at this point that he is the only suspect."

The investigators had been enlisted to aid the search for the arsonist. No further details were released.

A series of five brazen, seemingly indiscriminate attacks have occurred on houses of worship since April 26. The targets represented a variety of faiths, with some of the acts occurring during daylight.

The arsons began at the First Presbyterian Church of Encino, located next to a fire station. The blaze gutted a church office and caused an estimated $20,000 in damage.

Two other fires 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.

A cinder block tossed through a window Tuesday night at a Jewish educational center was the fifth incident linked to the arsonist. It was reported by a witness who ran outside after the block was thrown.

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.

©Copyright 2003, Associated Press

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