Bahai News -- Jerusalem Post - Jewish man arrested for LA synagogue, church arsons

Jewish man arrested for LA synagogue, church arsons

12.5.2003 0:01:01 Jerusalem Post



An Iranian-born Jewish man has been arrested in connection with arson attacks on three synagogues, a church, and a Bahai center, which raised fears of hate crimes and terrorism in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles.

Farshid Tehrani, 40, who apparently suffers from depression, was arrested early Friday by police, who had been tracking him for a day after receiving a tip linking him to the five arson incidents in Encino.

Between May 5 and May 7, incendiary devices, described as Molotov cocktails, were hurled at the Bahai Faith Community Center, the Iranian Synagogue, Da'at Torah Educational Center, and Valley Beth Shalom, one of the leading Conservative congregations in the Los Angeles area.

About 10 days earlier, a similar attack on the First Presbyterian Church of Encino caused $75,000 $100,000 damage, according to The Los Angeles Times, which had assigned eight reporters to the story.

Damages at the other locations were relatively minor and there were no injuries.

Investigation of the attacks was conducted through one of the largest local law enforcement mobilizations in recent history, with more than 150 police, fire department, FBI, and other federal investigators working on the case. These included 65 detectives from the anti-terrorism division of the LA Police Department.

Sam Kermanian, secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, told The Jerusalem Post that his community, as "one of the targets of these attacks, had been extremely concerned that they were hate or terrorism-related."

He said that relief over the arrest through outstanding police work was mingled "with deep shock at the possibility that the perpetrator might be someone from our community. This obviously cannot be the work of a healthy mind."

George Haroonian, president of the Council of Iranian American Jewish Organizations, said, "It is disturbing that an Iranian Jewish immigrant is believed to be the perpetrator, but I understand that he had psychological problems. You will find this in every community and it tells us that we must try to identify such problems early on."

Haroonian said that there were two major and about eight storefront synagogues patronized predominantly by Iranian Jews in the San Fernando Valley alone.

He praised the work of the authorities and local legislators, who had met with community and congregational leaders to advise on security matters.

Police said there was no evidence linking Tehrani to any terrorist groups or causes, while one official described him to the Times as a firebug with serious personal problems.

"We probably saved a lot of lives in this one," the unnamed official said. "He was heading to something bad."

According to his immediate family, Tehrani came to the United States about 16 years ago and worked hard in his jewelry business in downtown Los Angeles, until a "depressive disorder" forced him to give up most of his work two years ago.

His younger sister, Sheena Tehrani, described her brother, who is unmarried, as "a kind, caring man who just got burned out. There has to be some mistake. He is not that type of person."

Rabbi Moshe Hafuta of the Da'at Torah Educational Center, said Farshid Tehrani had once come to pray with his small congregation, which includes Persian, Israeli and American-born Jews.

Hafuta also told the Times that he had been involved in a dispute over an apartment he rented from Tehrani, and that a blaze, apparently set with lighter fluid, broke out at the apartment in late April.

The Times investigation also reported that the State of California had filed two tax liens against Tehrani, who, in turn, had tried to sue two judges who had ruled against him.

Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom noted that when the Molotov cocktail heaved through a sanctuary window at 6:30 a.m. landed a few feet from the ark, the Hispanic Catholic caretakers rushed in to save five Torah scrolls.

In a press conference Friday evening, Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn and police announced that an arrest had been made, but pleaded with the media not to divulge his name or background. The Times ignored the request.

©Copyright 2003, Jerusalem Post (Israel)

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