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Suspect in Molotov cocktail attack at New Jersey synagogue is charged with federal crime

CNN 2/2/2023 Rob Frehse

A New Jersey man has been arrested and charged with one count of attempted use of fire to damage a building after allegedly throwing a Molotov cocktail at a New Jersey synagogue Sunday, according to court documents.

Nicholas Malindretos, 26, of Clifton, will appear in federal court in Newark on Thursday for an initial appearance, the US Attorney’s Office in the District of New Jersey said in a news release.

A suspect lit and threw a Molotov cocktail at the front door of Temple Ner Tamid around 3 a.m. Sunday and fled the scene, according to Bloomfield Police officials. The bottle broke, but did not cause any damage to the building, police said.

Officials said a license plate reading device near the incident recorded the car that Malindretos allegedly used in the attack, according to a criminal complaint. Officials located the vehicle Tuesday and saw a hooded sweatshirt, items made of a white cloth material similar to the gloves the suspect was wearing during the incident and bottle of unidentified liquids, all visible inside the car.

If convicted, Malindretos faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, according to prosecutors.

CNN was unable to immediately identify an attorney for Malindretos but reached out to the federal public defender’s office to see whether they are representing him.

“No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith,” US Attorney Philip Sellinger said in the 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.”

New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin thanked officials for their work apprehending the suspect.

“In New Jersey, we stand united against hate and bias, and we speak with one voice to show that our state will remain a place where all can live and worship freely and safely,” Platkin said.

Temple Ner Tamid earlier this week confirmed in a phone call with CNN that it was the synagogue that was targeted. It includes a preschool and a K-12 religious school, according to its website. The synagogue describes itself as a “welcoming, diverse, and musical Reform congregation where members connect with their heritage while thinking progressively about the present.”

Police in Livingston, New Jersey, said they would increase patrols of temples in the area as a result of the attack. Livingston is about 8 miles west of Bloomfield.

No other temples were affected, Bloomfield police told CNN.

The synagogue’s Rabbi Marc Katz expressed his anger at the attack as well as his gratitude for the Jewish community.

“Everything worked as it should. Our cameras recorded the incident and our shatter-resistant doors held,” he said in the temple’s statement.

“But what I cannot do, is convince our community not to grow despondent,” he went on. “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.

“Our religious traditions continue. No act of hate can stop the power of religious freedom.”

Dov Ben-Shimon, the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey, to which Temple Ner Tamid belongs, wrote on Twitter that the attack was part of a wider spike in antisemitic hate crimes.

The “incident comes amidst a climate of intimidation and intolerance, and a rising tide of anti-Jewish hate crimes and hate speech against Jews,” he said.

The Anti-Defamation League Center on Extremism, which has tracked incidents of antisemitic harassment, vandalism, and assault in the US since 1979, reported 2,717 incidents of antisemitism in 2021 – up 34% from the previous year.

CNN’s Celina Tebor, Isa Kaufman-Geballe, Zoe Sottile and Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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