A 19-year-old Manhattan man who allegedly ascribes to misogynistic ideology has been accused of making a hoax threat to detonate a bomb at a Flatiron restaurant around Valentine's Day weekend, the first time indoor dining was allowed to resume in the five boroughs after its latest COVID shutdown.
According to a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday in the Southern District of New York, Malik Sanchez, is accused of posting a video around Feb. 13, which was a Saturday, to social media that captures him making the threat.
Prosecutors say the video shows Sanchez approach an outdoor seating area in front of the restaurant and say, "Let's enhance their meal." He positions himself close to two women seated at one of the tables and indicated he was about to set off a bomb, court papers say.
The defendant then allegedly loudly says, “Allahu Akbar. Allahu Akbar. Bomb detonation in two, in two minutes. I take you with me and I kill all you. I kill all you right now. And I kill all you for Allah. . . . I’m gonna do it for, Allah, Allah, Allahu Akbar, Come on. I do it, bomb now, bomb now.”
The two women appear startled, gather their belongings and go inside the restaurant. About four other individuals in the seating area also grab their things and run away. At that point, Sanchez allegedly says, “Yo, all of them scattered ... That was five stars," a possible indication it was an empty threat all along. At least one individual called 911 in connection with the bomb threat, and law enforcement responded to the scene. By that point, Sanchez had left the area, prosecutors say.
According to the criminal complaint, Sanchez posted other videos both before and after that Feb. 13 incident denigrating women and self-identifying as an "Involuntary Celibate" or "Incel," which refers to a primarily online group of individuals, mainly men, who believe society unjustly denies them sexual or romantic attention to which they are entitled. Prosecutors didn't outrightly say if they thought that association was behind his Valentine's Day weekend timing.
According to investigators, Sanchez posted a series of videos showing him harassing, threatening and in one instance harming people with whom he had encounters in Manhattan. During those taped encounters, Sanchez allegedly expressed support for the Incel ideology, including carrying out violence against women in the name of the group.
Less than a week before the alleged hoax bomb threat, around Feb. 7, federal prosecutors say Sanchez posted a video with a caption including “INCEL ARMY RISE UP" that showed him yelling at two women walking on a street in Manhattan.
He allegedly yelled he had “Incel rage” and that he supports Incel’s unofficial founder, Elliot Rodger, who attacked a sorority house and pedestrians in California in 2014, killing six victims and injuring 14 before taking his own life.
Sanchez allegedly said Rodger’s victims “deserved to be run over and hit by a truck. They deserved to be slaughtered," according to the complaint unsealed Wednesday.
More than a month after the alleged Feb. 13 hoax, around March 20, prosecutors say Sanchez posted another video of him approaching women at an outdoor seating area in Manhattan and proclaiming his support for Incels and Rodger, this time while making hand gestures mimicking pointing a gun, court papers say.
Multiple people tried to get him to stop, at which point Sanchez allegedly pepper-sprayed one person in the face. He was arrested by responding NYPD officers that day and charged with state offenses. Then he was released on bail.
Sanchez was arrested at his Manhattan home early Wednesday on a single federal charge of conveying false and misleading information and hoaxes. Video posted to the Citizen app captured the law enforcement activity around 6 a.m.
"As alleged, Malik Sanchez perpetrated a hoax bomb threat at a Manhattan restaurant that frightened innocent victims, sowed chaos, and diverted precious law enforcement resources," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement. "Today’s arrest makes clear that such conduct will not be tolerated."
Sanchez faces up to five years in prison if convicted of the federal count. It wasn't immediately clear if he had retained an attorney who could comment on his behalf.
"Whether real or perceived, a threat of violence is a serious action with real-life consequences," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. "In this case, Sanchez’s alleged behavior carries the potential for a federal prison sentence. Anyone who intends to carry out a similar hoax should know that the FBI’s JTTF is ready and willing to respond."
In another statement Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said Sanchez's alleged behavior "disrupted not only the safety and well-being of several innocent restaurant patrons but the fabric of our society."