Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli characterized 19-year-old Aakash Dalal, a New Brunswick resident who is believed to have been enrolled at Rutgers University at one time, as an instigator in the firebombings allegedly carried out in January by then-19-year-old Anthony Graziano, though Dalal is not believed to have participated in the acts themselves.
Both men grew up in the northern New Jersey town of Lodi, about 15 miles west of New York City, and met in middle school. Molinelli described their relationship as one of teacher and student, with Dalal playing the role of teacher, Dalal was arrested Friday morning and was being held on $2.5 million bail. His first court appearance was scheduled for Monday. He is charged with conspiracy, aggravated arson, bias intimidation and criminal mischief.
"He is obviously upset," attorney Chris DiLorenzo, representing Dalal, said. "He is an intelligent young man and is mainly concerned about himself and his family at this time."
For the first time, authorities linked the two firebombings and another attempted firebombing with two earlier spray painting incidents at area synagogues. Both men are alleged to have participated in the spray painting, while Graziano allegedly carried out the firebombings himself, with encouragement from Dalal. Molinelli said a series of emails and texts between the two showed them discussing how to carry out the bombings.
"You could see how Graziano gradually became much more sophisticated in what he was doing," Molinelli said. "There was development, and there was rising sophistication with each incident, which showed how calculating and well planned each incident was."
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.
Eight days later, 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 and escaped serious injury.
A few days after Graziano's Jan. 24 arrest, authorities found several Molotov cocktails made from glass beer bottles that they said they were able to traced to Graziano, in a wooded area about 100 yards from the Paramus Jewish Community Center.
In the weeks leading up to the fire bombings, anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at synagogues in Hackensack and Maywood, according to police.
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. The incidents prompted Bergen County authorities to institute round-the-clock police patrols of houses of worship and ethnic community centers.
Graziano has pleaded not guilty to charges including nine counts of attempted murder. He initially was held on $5 million bail but that was later reduced by a judge to $2.5 million.
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