Bahai News -- The New York Times - Los Angeles Offers Reward in Fires at Temples


May 8, 2003

Los Angeles Offers Reward in Fires at Temples


LOS ANGELES, May 7 — Officials today classified as hate crimes suspicious fires in churches and synagogues in the San Fernando Valley and outlined efforts to solve them.

"These are acts of terrorism, they're acts of hatred, and they tear at the very fabric of our community," Mayor James K. Hahn said after a firebombing at the Valley Beth Shalom synagogue on Ventura Boulevard in the Encino section.

The fire at the synagogue, which was started by a Molotov cocktail thrown through a stained-glass window, was the fourth in 11 days at a place of worship in Encino. It occurred at 6:40 a.m., hours before celebrations at the temple day school to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the State of Israel.

Although the fires have not been officially listed as arson, they are classified as suspicious and are widely believed to be related. The fires occurred within two to three miles of one another in Encino.

The city is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests. The House of Worship Task Force, formed in 1996 after attacks on places of worship and made up of local and federal officials, is investigating with the help of 65 detectives from the police antiterrorism unit.

The authorities said the first fire was on April 26 at the First Presbyterian Church of Encino. It caused $20,000 in damage. The next blaze was at 11:15 a.m. on Monday at the Baha'i Community Center on Genesta Avenue, where a fire in the entryway was reported to have caused more than $10,000 in damage.

At 10 p.m. on Monday, a fire damaged a predominantly Iranian synagogue, also on Ventura Boulevard.

A liquid accelerant and a primitive ignition device were used in all the fires, Fire Chief William R. Bamattre said.

©Copyright 2003, The New York Times (NY, USA)

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