Fire, "Violent Crime" at Chinese Consulate in San Francisco

By Sam Brock, Lisa Fernandez and Christie Smith
|  Thursday, Jan 2, 2014  |  Updated 10:43 PM EDT
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Chinese officials and the FBI are looking into who perpetrated what they are calling a

Chinese officials and the FBI are looking into who perpetrated what they are calling a "violent crime" at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco on New Year's Day by setting a fire that heavily damaged the front door gate guarded by stone lions. Sam Brock reports.

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Arson Investigation at Chinese Consulate in San Francisco

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco says someone doused the front door with gasoline and lit it on fire. Christie Smith reports.

Police Investigate Fire at Chinese Consulate

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco says someone doused the front door with gasoline, and lit it on fire. Christie Smith reports.
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The investigation into an attack on the Chinese consulate in San Francisco is now fully engaged on a federal level.

Firefighters arrived Wednesday night to see the front door ablaze at 1450 Laguna Street in the city's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood.

The U. S. State Department and FBI both waded into the search for the person or persons responsible, a motive and a timeline for the events that transpired Wednesday night.

David Johnson, special agent for the FBI, told reporters that "an incendiary device fueled by gas" tore up the facade and entrance of the building, incredibly without any injuries.

"The FBI has opened a full investigation into this matter at this point in time," Johnson said.

But he added that the Bureau cannot elaborate on a possible motive or perpetrators, as it's still conducting an ongoing investigation.

Johnson said the act appears 'criminal' in nature, but not national security-related.

FBI spokesperson Peter Lee elaborated on that point, indicating officials do not believe there are any ties to terrorism, and that the explosion was "likely an isolated incident."

Lee said the FBI is also looking at the explosion as a possible hate crime and targeted act of arson- arousing the fears of community civic groups and legal alliances for Asian Americans.

"I do worry that this attack is a hate crime and it might generate other hate crimes from folks who feel that this sort of behavior is acceptable," said Michele Lew of Asian American Community Involvement. "And it's not acceptable."

The South Bay group advocates for some 10,000 to 15,000 Asian Americans in the Bay Area, and also provides health and social services.

Lew hopes that if the violence is labeled a hate crime, it doesn't continue to fuel stereotypes.

"Unfortunately, there's a common misperception that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners in this country," she said. "And for Chinese Americans in particular, there's a myth that they are more loyal to China than to the United States."

To repel such stereotypes, Lew encourages civic involvement.

"Bringing Asian immigrations together with other communities and learning from each other so we can become a multicultural community that we all want," she said.

According to a statement released on the consulate's website Thursday by a Chinese Consulate spokesperson, a person was seen coming out of a minivan parked in front of the consulate's main entrance at about 9:25 p.m. and pouring two buckets of gasoline onto the front door before setting it on fire.

The consulate didn't say how officials know about the suspect in the minivan, but there are 12 security cameras on the property.
 
According to a fire dispatcher, the fire was reported at 9:33 p.m. and was brought under control by firefighters at 9:42 p.m. Chinese Central Television provided photos of the fireball raging at the front door. And on Thursday morning, the front door was charred, and glass shattered all over the sidewalk. One of the two stone decorative lions in front of the building was blackened, another was not.
 
No one was hurt in the fire that charred the building's doorway, damaged the lobby and burned toward the roof.
 
Still, the Chinese took the fire as a serious "despicable" affront.
 
"We strongly condemn this vicious, destructive act of arson towards the American consulate of China, which severely damaged the facilities and threatened the safety of consulate personnel and others," the statement said.  "We urge the U.S. side to take all necessary measures to provide adequate protection for Chinese consular personnel and properties, and bring the culprit(s) to justice as soon as possible."
 
In March 2008 the Chinese consulate in San Francisco was similarly attacked, when a group of people poured a flammable liquid onto the building's back gate and set it ablaze. As of right now, the FBI does not believe there is a connection between the two attacks.
 
Though it is common for protests to occur outside Chinese diplomatic missions in Western countries, acts of violence are rare.  
 
 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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