New Jersey

Suspect Seen on Camera Throwing Molotov Cocktail at NJ Temple Arrested: FBI

A man has been arrested after Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield had a Molotov cocktail thrown at it early Sunday — here's what we know about the suspect

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The man allegedly seen on video in a ski mask lighting a Molotov cocktail and throwing it at the front door of a New Jersey synagogue has been arrested, the FBI said Wednesday.

An FBI spokesperson identified the suspect in the Sunday morning attack in Bloomfield as Nicholas Malindretos. The 26-year-old, from Clifton, was charged Wednesday with federal arson-related charges, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. He will face a judge on Thursday.

Sources said the U.S. Attorney's Office is considering additional charges, including bias crimes.

Malindretos was tracked in part through video of his Volkswagen going to and from the synagogue, as well as license plate reader matching, according to officials familiar with the investigation. When his vehicle was found, clothing similar to those seen in the video — the black sweatshirt with a skull and cross bones — were allegedly seen in the back seat.

Malindretos is believed to have a history of emotional issues, officials told NBC New York. Investigators are still trying to hammer out a motive, but a rabbi at the synagogue said that it boils down to one thing: hate.

"There are many people with mental illness in this country that would never think to do what he did. Which means there has to be a hate element to why he chose us," said Rabbi Marc Katz. "And so my heart goes out to him, and at the same time, I’m not sure that one can discount the fact that he chose us as a target."

The suspect's car was identified on surveillance video and tracked back to Clifton, where he lives, according to law enforcement officials. NBC New York's Ida Siegal reports.

"No one should find that their lives are at risk by exercising their faith," U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger said. "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."

Temple Ner Tamid released a statement following the arrest, saying police "will be investigating the suspect’s ties — if any — to individuals or groups with hateful, violent, traitorous, or insurrectionist goals."

Rabbi Katz said the synagogue will "evaluate further options to improve our safety in the long term, [and] we plan to continue an elevated security presence at the building for several more days."

If convicted, Malindretos faces up to 20 years in prison. Attorney information for him was not known. No one answered the door at the family's home.

"If he is listening, I would like him to learn from this and to realize that we as a community are not those things that he fears and hates," said Katz.

No one was hurt in the attempted firebombing at the temple during the early overnight hours. Surveillance footage showed someone in a ski mask light a Molotov cocktail and throw it at the front door of the synagogue, which is part of the vast five-county network of Jewish Federation Greater MetroWest NJ.

The flaming bottle did not damage the temple after it broke on the shatter-resistant doors — one of many security upgrades made there over the years. The fire went out on impact.

Katz also noted recent security enhancement thanks to a state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness grant.

"We have and will continue to do everything in our power to keep our community safe," Katz said Sunday. "Everything worked as it should. Our cameras recorded the incident and our shatter-resistant doors held. But what I cannot do, is convince our community not to grow despondent. There is hate everywhere, and hate wins when we let it penetrate."

Police had been parked outside the temple in the days following the incident, as an added source of security — and to calm frayed nerves. Many were told about the attack Sunday morning, just minutes before parents were set to bring their children in for Hebrew school.

"My congregation was on edge. As long as the perpetrator was out there it meant that he could potentially come back. And so there is a sense that at least this particular threat has been neutralized," Katz said.

Anyone with information regarding the incicent is asked to call Bloomfield police. The Essex County prosecutor's office, FBI and ATF have also been notified and a joint investigation is ongoing, officials said. The superintendent of schools in nearby Montclair said the district would increase security Monday as well.

In 2022, there an all-time high in antisemitic incidents and assaults reported in both New Jersey and New York -- and a man was just arrested in early November for allegedly threatening temples across the state.

This latest case underscores the ongoing nature of the problem, according to David Saginaw, who heads the Jewish Federation Greater MetroWest NJ.

"This 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. "Our Jewish Federation will continue to work with all partners in the community to stand up to hate, build our resilience, and promote safety and security."

News 4's Gilma Avalos reports.

The incident also in part led to a multi-faceted investigation after a separate possible bias attack on another religious target less than two days prior, at a church in Asbury Park.

Sometime between 9 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on Friday, someone tried to pepper-spray a group of people outside of the Trinity Episcopal Church's community building after a concert benefitting an anti-racist organization, according to the church's rector, Rev. Chase Danford.

Those responsible for the pepper spray also threw smoke bombs outside the venue, Danford said, adding that the church's LGBTQ+ flag was vandalized during the evening as well — something that has happened twice in the past few months.

No injuries were reported. It was unclear why incident occurred, but Asbury Park police are investigating it as a possible hate crime.

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