Suspect in attack on Bloomfield synagogue makes first court appearance
A Clifton man who was arrested Wednesday, Feb. 1, in the firebombing attack on Temple Ner Tamid early Sunday made his first appearance in federal court Thursday, facing a charge of “attempted use of fire to damage and destroy a building used in interstate commerce.”
The man, Nicholas Malindretros, 26, was ordered to remain in custody when he appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Edward S. Kiel in U.S. District Court in Newark.
Malindretos "has been detained based on the argument that he would otherwise present danger to the community," Philip R. Sellinger, the U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey, said after the hearing.
Videos captured by surveillance cameras show a masked man wearing a sweatshirt with a skull and crossbones lighting and throwing a Molotov cocktail at a door of Ner Tamid around 3 a.m. Sunday. Law enforcement authorities said a similar sweatshirt, a mask and gloves were found in Malindretos' car.
"Protecting the people of New Jersey is central to the United States attorney's mission," Sellinger said. "No one should fear for their lives because of the exercise of their religion. We will work tirelessly with our partners to protect the right of those in our community and keep our faith-based community safe."
New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin said the arrest was the result of collaborative efforts among local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.
"Here we speak with one voice," Platkin said. "We work together to protect our residents and when incidents like this happen to hold those accountable. And for everyone in New Jersey, we want you to know that we will not stop working tirelessly to protect you and make sure that you can live, worship and enjoy your live freely and safely no matter who you are or how you pray."
James Dennehy, special agent in charge of the FBI's Newark field office, cited three factors as being vital to the investigation: surveillance technology, "gumshoe police detective work" and the cooperation of the community.
"Hate crimes have got to stop," Dennehy said. "But until they do, the FBI and all of our partners will make it one of our top priorities to investigate them and bring them to resolve. We rely on the
The community in Essex County stepped forward during the last few days in order to assist law enforcement in resolving this matter.
Hate crimes have got to stop. But until they do, the FBI and all of our partners will make it one of our top priorities to investigate them and bring them to resolve. We rely on the community to help us with that."
Ner Tamid's congregation consists of 540 families, with a large contingent from Montclair.
Surveillance video of the attack shows a man, his face mostly obscured by a ski mask, approaching Temple Ner Tamid shortly before 3:30 a.m on Sunday, Jan. 29. Using a lighter, he ignites the fuse, throws the device toward the building and sprints out of camera view.
The weapon did not explode and the bottle, Bloomfield police said, shattered without puncturing the glass doors. With no one in the building during the early morning hours, there were no injuries, police said.
If convicted, Malindretros would be imprisoned for between five and 20 years, fined, or both, according to the federal statute.
On Monday, the Bloomfield Police Department and the Essex County Sheriff's Office announced they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the person responsible.
On Wednesday afternoon, three days after the attack, Malindretros was arrested. Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia first announced the news on his Facebook page around 4:30 p.m.
The surveillance cameras at the synagogue and a license plate reading device positioned less than a half-mile away played a crucial role in leading investigators to Malindretos, according to a criminal complaint filed against him in U.S. District Court of New Jersey on Wednesday.
The license plate reading device, about 0.3 miles away from the temple at the crossing of Watchung Avenue and Broad Street detected the license of a vehicle that passed through the intersection at 3:04 a.m., the complaint says. That was 15 minutes before the suspect flung the lighted Molotov cocktail. Ten minutes after that, the same license reader recorded a black Volkswagen sedan with the same plate passing back through the intersection, according to the complaint.
Two days later, on Tuesday, the Volkswagen was located by law enforcement on a Clifton street. According to the complaint, investigators could easily see through the car's windows and spotted a hooded sweatshirt that seemed to match the sweatshirt seen in the temple's surveillance video. Also visible, the complaint says were "bottles of unidentified liquids."
After obtaining a search warrant, investigators recovered the sweatshirt, which, the complaint says, bore the same markings of the sweatshirt seen during the attack. They also found white cloth gloves and a ski mask matching the items seen in the temple's video, the complaint says.
Video surveillance cameras near where the Volkswagen was parked in Clifton had captured the car parking, and a man with the "same physical characteristics" as the suspect stepping out of the car and entering a nearby two-story building, the complaint says.
The building's owner later told investigators that the man lived in the basement, according to the complaint.
Support has poured in for the Temple Ner Tamid congregation since the Sunday attack. Gov. Phil Murphy called the attack “absolutely despicable,” adding that he would “not relent” in the state’s fight against antisemitism during a visit to the temple Tuesday, local clergy have condemned the antisemitic action, and community groups have joined together in shows of support and solidarity.
"No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith,” Philip Sellinger, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, said in a Wednesday release. “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. Protecting communities of faith and houses of worship is core to this office’s mission."
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Matthew Platkin.