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Wednesday, May 14, 2003

Man charged in arson attacks on LA houses of worship

(05-14) 00:14 PDT LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A 40-year-old man has pleaded innocent to charges of arson and terrorism involving a string of fires and vandalism at houses of worship in the San Fernando Valley.

Farshid Haji Tehrani, a Jewish Iranian immigrant, was arraigned on numerous criminal counts, most of which were labeled hate crimes in the complaint. He remained jailed on $750,000 bail.

Tehrani's next court appearance was set for May 28.

Tehrani, who came to the United States about 16 years ago and lives in Encino, "vehemently denied the charges," said defense attorney Laizer Gould. "He's not a terrorist. He is of Middle Eastern descent. I know there's always a rush to judgment on these things."

Tehrani, a jeweler who left the family business a few years ago, has been treated in the past for depression, Gould said after his client's arraignment Tuesday.

The houses of worship targeted in the attacks were all in the Encino area of the valley and represented various faiths. Two were synagogues. No one was hurt.

The first fire occurred April 26, gutting an office at First Presbyterian Church of Encino. Damage was estimated at between $75,000 and $100,000.

Two fires were set May 5, one at the Bahai Community Center, where most of the congregation is Iranian, and another 12 hours later that burned the roof of an Iranian synagogue.

On May 6 a cinder block was tossed through a window at the Da'nt Torah Educational Center, and the next day a firebomb was hurled into the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue.

Tehrani was also accused of using lamp fluid to start a fire April 25 at the home of a rabbi.

He was arrested May 9 in Westwood after allegedly setting a trash fire as officers followed him.

In all, the complaint alleges six counts of arson, four counts of terrorism, one count of attempting to burn a structure and one count of vandalism of a religious property.

Gould said Tehrani's family was shocked by the allegations and insist he could not be involved in the attacks. "He does not appear to be that type of individual as far as I'm concerned," he said.

At the height of the investigation, a task force that included 65 detectives and fire investigators from local and federal law enforcement agencies were assigned to the case.

©Copyright 2003, Associated Press

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