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Suspect in N.J. synagogue firebombings is called a loner

By Stephanie Akin, Deon J. Hampton and Marlene Naanes, The Record (Hackensack N.J.) –

HACKENSACK, N.J. — The 19-year-old New Jersey man charged with firebombing a synagogue and setting fire to a temple this month was a loner who selected his targets through an Internet search, law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Anthony Graziano of Lodi — who could face up to 80 years in prison if convicted of multiple charges, including nine counts of attempted murder — chose the Rutherford and Paramus synagogues apparently because they were close enough to his mother’s house that he could reach them on his bicycle, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said.

The revelations, at a news conference announcing Graziano’s arrest, were among the first details released about the young man suspected in the late-night attacks that have unsettled and perplexed the region’s Jewish community since early January.

“We believe he did this because they were synagogues and specifically to intimidate, or cause alarm or concern — as he did — to people of the Jewish faith,” Molinelli said.

News of the arrest was received with relief by the region’s Jewish leaders, many of whom urged synagogues, schools and religious institutions to adopt heightened security in the aftermath of the attacks. It also left many unanswered questions, most notably who was behind other recent anti-Semitic incidents targeting Bergen County’s Jewish institutions that officials now say are almost certainly unrelated to the attacks in Rutherford and Paramus.

The attacks at Congregation Beth El synagogue in Rutherford and Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus happened within weeks of the discovery of anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi graffiti at synagogues in Hackensack and Maywood last month.

Molinelli said the investigations into the other incidents are still open, adding that investigators assume the graffiti was left by adolescents.

Graziano, however, was more of an immediate threat, Molinelli said.

The methods used in both attacks suggested that Graziano intended to do significant harm, Molinelli said.

For the first attack, Graziano, who is unemployed and did not have access to a car, rode his bicycle the roughly five miles to the Paramus synagogue on Jan. 3, Molinelli said. He allegedly used gasoline to set a fire behind the building. The fire went out quickly, even though Graziano had thrown a gasoline-filled bottle at it, Molinelli said.

Six days later, Molinelli said, Graziano rode his bicycle to the Saddle Brook Walmart, where he was caught on surveillance video buying materials he would use in the Rutherford attack: low-grade motor oil, aerosol hairspray, duct tape and a six-pack of glass-bottled raspberry Crush soda.

Graziano allegedly assembled the explosives in advance, emptying the soda bottles, using fabric as a wick and covering the bottles with duct tape. He carried them in a camouflage backpack to the Rutherford synagogue on the morning of Jan. 11, Molinelli said. He then lighted them and threw them, one-by-one, at the building, Molinelli said.

Investigators believe Graziano threw one of the first Molotov cocktails into the second-floor bedroom of the synagogue’s living quarters, where Rabbi Nosson Schuman and his wife, Pessy, were sleeping, Molinelli said.

“We believe he knew he had thrown it into the house, and knew that there were individuals in the house,” Molinelli said. “Notwithstanding, he went back and got more Molotov cocktails and threw them at the house as well.”

After throwing the explosives, Molinelli said, Graziano threw the aerosol cans.

Schuman was burned on his hand as he extinguished the flames. The Schumans; their five children, who range in age from 5 to 17; and Nosson Schuman’s father all escaped safely.

Molinelli described Graziano as a loner with few friends and limited social interests.

“While he did enjoy certain things like Xbox and whatnot, it did not appear that he had any type of social activities beyond what he himself chose to do,” Molinelli said.

Tips from several people who were acquainted with Graziano and recognized him in the surveillance video led to the arrest, Molinelli said.

Other acquaintances expressed shock Tuesday that the quiet young man could be capable of the acts he’s suspected of.

Graziano’s father, whose name also is Anthony Graziano, said he was “flabbergasted” to hear the news of his son’s arrest from a reporter. He said his son never said anything to suggest he had any animosity toward Jews or an interest in fire.

“He’s a great kid,” the elder Graziano said in a phone interview. “He’s my son. He’s 19 years old. He’s confused.”

Graziano said he sees his son infrequently, but that he seemed fine when the two went out to lunch last week. He added that the teen is troubled but did not elaborate. The elder Graziano said his son took classes at Bergen Community College and was interested in his father’s Jersey City-based photography business.

No one answered the door Tuesday at the house that the younger Graziano shares with his mother and siblings in Lodi. A teenage neighbor said that Graziano often posted political comments on Facebook, but never anything anti-Semitic.

Schuman, the Rutherford rabbi, said the news of the arrest was a cause for celebration.

“We are all elated and jumping for joy” he said outside his home. “My heart is a lot lighter.”

Graziano was charged with nine counts of first-degree attempted murder and one count each of first-degree bias intimidation and first-degree aggravated arson in connection with the Rutherford incident. He also was charged with first-degree aggravated arson, first-degree bias intimidation and third-degree arson for allegedly setting fire to the Paramus temple. He was being held at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack on Tuesday night with bail set at $5 million.

Graziano is due to make his first appearance on the charges in Superior Court in Hackensack on Wednesday.

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