Synagogue attack case widens

Anthony Graziano, 19, faces attempted murder counts.
Anthony Graziano, 19, faces attempted murder counts.

A N.J. teen, charged in two firebombings, now is accused of a plot at a community center.

Posted: January 28, 2012

HACKENSACK, N.J. - Authorities leveled additional charges Friday against a teenager accused in the firebombings of two North Jersey synagogues, saying he had plotted a similar attack on a Jewish community center and had conducted Internet searches for building Molotov cocktails and instructions on blowing up buildings.

Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said investigators found multiple Molotov cocktails this week in a wooded area near the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, and they traced the evidence to a foiled attack they said suspect Anthony Graziano had planned for Jan. 7.

Graziano, 19, was charged Friday with aggravated arson, bias intimidation, and other charges for the planned attack on the Paramus center.

Graziano was arrested this week and has already pleaded not guilty to nine counts of attempted murder as well as bias intimidation and arson charges for a Jan. 11 attack on a Rutherford synagogue and a Jan. 3 firebombing of a Paramus synagogue. If convicted on all charges, he could face at least 95 years in prison.

A spokesman for the public defender's office, which is representing Graziano, said Friday he would not comment on the new charges.

The lawyer who represented Graziano at his first court appearance this week said he was seeking to have the teen's $5 million bail reduced and to move the trial venue because of news coverage.

The prosecutor declined to say Friday what investigators had learned about the motives of the unemployed 2010 high school graduate, but said they believed Graziano's actions were motivated by a hatred of Jews.

"What Mr. Graziano did . . . is clearly the result of an anti-Jewish animus, a bias against them, an intent to harm them," Molinelli said. "There are people that might be biased, there are people that might be bigoted, but this is an individual that takes violent action based on that, and that's a crime in New Jersey."

Molinelli said cans of spray paint were found on the Paramus JCC's steps and a bicycle was found abandoned nearby, both on Jan. 7, and were reported to police.

The findings were not immediately connected to a string of bias-related incidents in North Jersey, Molinelli said.

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. Officials determined that an accelerant had been used in the rear of the building to start a fire that had quickly burned itself out. No injuries were reported.

Early Jan. 11, 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 parents were asleep at the time.

The attacks kept Jewish residents of Bergen County on edge until Graziano's arrest on Jan. 24.

Molinelli described Graziano as intelligent and aware of what was happening to him. He said the teenager seemed to be a loner without much of a social life. Molinelli added that investigators hadn't found any indication that Graziano belonged to any extremist groups but had evidence that he shared his views with other people, though the forum was not specified.

Police found that, in addition to searching the Internet for how to build weapons, Graziano had done computer searches for any news coverage of the attacks, Molinelli said. The teen also owned a firearm purchaser ID, which would have allowed him to buy a rifle or a shotgun for hunting purposes, but not a handgun, as he was under 21, Molinelli said. Authorities believe the attacks could point to a pattern of escalation had they not been thwarted by law enforcement, Molinelli said.

Authorities conducted sweeps of synagogues within a 10-mile radius of Graziano's Lodi home this week, looking for additional arson materials. Molinelli said the sweeps were precautionary and did not turn up anything.

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