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The FBI has arrested a man suspected of firebombing a New Jersey synagogue

Police in Bloomfield, N.J. are looking for the suspect who hurled a Molotov cocktail at the entrance of a synagogue early Sunday morning. Surveillance video shows him wearing a ski mask and skull and crossbones top.
Bloomfield Division of Public Safety
Police in Bloomfield, N.J. are looking for the suspect who hurled a Molotov cocktail at the entrance of a synagogue early Sunday morning. Surveillance video shows him wearing a ski mask and skull and crossbones top.

Updated February 1, 2023 at 9:49 PM ET

Authorities have arrested a man suspected in the firebomb attack of a synagogue in New Jersey over the weekend.

U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger identified the suspect as Nicholas Malindretos of Clifton, N.J., in statement on Wednesday evening. He praised federal, state and local law enforcement for working swiftly together.

The 26-year-old, who is accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail at the Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, is charged with "one count of attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce."

"The defendant is alleged to have gone to a synagogue in the middle of the night and maliciously attempted to damage and destroy it using a firebomb," Sellinger said.

"We will continue to devote whatever resources are necessary to keep our Jewish community and all New Jersey residents safe," he added.

The incident caused no physical damage to the synagogue, but the attack rattled the community nonetheless.

Surveillance footage shows a man wearing a ski mask, hooded sweatshirt with a skull and crossbones design on the front, dark shoes and white gloves walking up to the front entrance of the temple. He pauses briefly to ignite the wick of a bottle, then hurls it toward the door. Without waiting to witness the Molotov cocktail's impact — it bounces onto the ground and shatters — the man flees on foot.

Malindretos, Sellinger explained, was tracked using a combination of license plate reader footage and videos that captured him going to and from the synagogue.

"Law enforcement officers located the vehicle in Clifton and saw several items consistent with the video of the incident plainly visible inside," the U.S. Attorney's office said.

The incident — just one in a series of recent antisemitic threats — has drawn outrage from state leaders and left the local Jewish community on edge.

Elsewhere in the county, Livingston Police said on Sunday morning they had increased patrols of their temples as a result of the attack. Meanwhile, Temple Ner Tamid will have a heightened police presence into the week.

The synagogue's Rabbi Marc Katz said in a statement that "everything worked as it should," as reported by CNN. The shatter-resistant doors held and its cameras captured everything, and the synagogue will continue to do all it can to keep its community safe, he added.

"But what I cannot do, is convince our community not to grow despondent," Katz continued. "There is hate everywhere, and hate wins when we let it penetrate. When the weight of this grows too heavy, I remind my congregation that every day, despite what is happening, in Jewish communities around the world, babies are named, children are educated, people are married ... No act of hate can stop the power of religious freedom."

It's just the latest threat to a New Jersey synagogue

Sunday's attack comes as antisemitic attacks and harassment continue their steady climb in the U.S. — and on the heels of other threats to synagogues in the state.

In November, the FBI issued a statement warning of a "broad" threat to New Jersey synagogues and urging them to take heightened precautions. An 18-year-old man was later charged with transmitting a threat in interstate and foreign commerce.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) documented 370 antisemitic incidents in New Jersey in 2021, which it said was the highest number ever recorded in the state and the second-highest number recorded in any state that year.

Several Jewish groups — including the ADL, American Jewish Committee and chapters of the Jewish Federation — noted in a joint statement that Sunday's attack also happened days after International Holocaust Remembrance Day, "when we are reminded of where such horrific actions can lead."

"We urge our leaders and community partners to speak out against this outrageous act and ask that all communities remain vigilant, though we have not been informed of any particular additional threats to Jewish institutions in New Jersey at this time," they added.

Officials are indeed speaking out. Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia said in a statement that "hate and antisemitism ... have no place in our welcoming community," while U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherrill called on people to work together to eradicate rising antisemitism.

"Our Jewish neighbors are beloved community members — friends, loved ones and leaders," she wrote. "Attacks against them are attacks against all of us, and we all have a responsibility to stand up against [antisemitism] wherever it rears its head."

Another incident at a church is also under investigation

Authorities are also looking into an unrelated incident at a church some 60 miles away, in Asbury Park, N.J.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office said it is working with other agencies to investigate a "possible bias-motivated incident" that took place at Trinity Episcopal Church during an anti-racism event on Friday night.

Asbury Park Police notified the prosecutor's office "based upon the nature of the allegations," it said, adding only that there were no known or confirmed injuries to any civilians.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted on Sunday that he had been briefed about both incidents, condemning the acts and declaring that "there is no place for violence or hate in New Jersey."

Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin noted in a statement that both attacks occurred "while violence continues to erupt in Israel, and while our own nation reckons with violence at home" — a reference to widespread outrage over the police killing of Tyre Nichols. Platkin added:

"I want to reassure all New Jerseyans — especially our friends and neighbors of the Black community and the Jewish faith — that law enforcement continues to take the appropriate steps to increase our presence around sensitive places so that everyone in our state can worship, love and live without fear of violence or threat."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.