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Trial moves closer in Bergen synagogue firebombings

Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The man accused of plotting a series of Bergen County synagogue arson attacks moved closer to a fall trial today.

Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian scheduled a Sept. 16 arraignment for Aakash Dalal and a Sept. 25 hearing on his defense attorney’s request to have the case tried in another county.

Attorney Brian Neary made the change-of-venue motion because Bergen authorities have charged his client with threatening to kill an assistant prosecutor following his arrest in the arsons — which Neary said creates a conflict.

A Bergen County grand jury in Hackensack indicted Dalal last week on attempted murder charges as the result of what authorities said were intentions he expressed to a fellow inmate of plotting to kill Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney once he was released on bail.

Besides seeking to have his client and co-defendant Anthony Graziano of Lodi tried separately, Neary also wants to remove Bergen County prosecutors from the case entirely, saying they cannot be unbiased in their investigation.

Both men have been under indictment in the synagogue attacks since last summer.

Prosecutor said Graziano carried out the bombings in December 2011 and January 2012 under Dalal’s tulelage.

From an earlier court appearance: Anthony Marco Graziano (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia)

The two zeroed in on a wooden “gog” — their slang for synagogue — in Rutherford because it would be easier to burn, First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins said.

  • EXCLUSIVE: Two men accused in the firebombing of a Rutherford synagogue chose their target for a simple reason, a Bergen County prosecutor said this past week: It was made of wood. READ MORE….

Once they found Congregation Beth El on Montross Avenue, they remained in contact “right up until the time [Graziano] threw the Molotov cocktail through the window of the master bedroom of [Rabbi Rosson Schuman] and his wife, landing at the foot of the bed, setting the room on fire,” Higgins said.

Incendiary devices were also placed on the roof of the synagogue, which sustained the most damage of the targets. Schuman beat back the flames and got his family out before anyone could be seriously injured, authorities said.

Neary said his client “has [pleaded] not guilty with regard to the arson. He is not the person who threw the Molotov cocktail.”

He also insisted that Dala wasn’t part of the alleged murder plot against Delaney.

Neary has been trying to convince the courts to move the trial to another county, citing adverse publicity and what he said might be prejudice by Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli’s office because of the murder conspiracy charge.

Representing the people: Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Annemarie Cozzi (Appellate Unit chief); First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins; Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel (Confidential Investigations Unit chief) STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

He noted that Molinelli attended grand jury hearings that led to a March 1 indictment — a move the defense attorney said apparently was “playing to public sentiment.”

Higgins said that once Dalal was arrested, he admitted his association with Graziano and later said that Delaney was “the first person he was going to kill” once he got out of jail.

Dalal had arranged to post $1 million bail when the alleged murder plot was discovered, Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last June.

After the murder conspiracy charges were brought, Dalal’s bail was hiked to the current $4 million.

Neary said the purported murder plot was the concoction of a jailhouse snitch who wore a wire and “badgered, led and coerced” Dalal into making statements implicating him in an act that he essentially had no intention of committing.

Stretching more than a month, the firebombings included the one in Rutherford, another at Temple K’Hal Adath Jeshrun of Paramus, and an attempted arson at the Jewish Community Center of Paramus.

The pair are also charged with bias intimidation offenses at Temple Beth Israel in Maywood and at Temple Beth El Hackensack.

Graziano was arrested in January 2012 following an intense manhunt after surveillance footage released to the public showed him leaving the Route 46 Wal-Mart in Saddle Brook with a bag of items that included hair spray cans, duct tape and Orange Crush – to be used as bombs, Molinelli said at the time.

The Orange Crush bottles are believed connected to “Left 4 Dead,” an X-Box game that two Florida honor students cited as their inspiration for throwing more than a dozen Molotov cocktails at cars and a house in Florida four years ago, the prosecutor said.

Although people commonly know of Molotov cocktails as bottles filled with gas and ignited by a kerosene-soaked wick stuffed into the mouth, some devices instead involve a chemical or gel and gasoline mix that ignites when the container breaks.

Authorities first believed that Graziano was a “loner,” as Molinelli put it.

But a check of his computer turned up correspondence with Dalal, a childhood friend.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT received information pointing to Dalal early in the investigation and immediately notified Molinelli. However, the prosecutor said his detectives independently got onto Dalal’s trail based on a biased posting of his on a Jewish online site after the firebombings.

Molinelli said Graziano used a bicycle to get to and from the attacks.

Dalal, who used to live in Lodi, is charged with nearly all of the same offenses, in addition to the charge involving Delaney.

Both men are the first defendants in New Jersey charged with terrorism under a state law enacted in 2002, months after 9/11.

Dalal is also charged separately in Middlesex County with conspiring to torch an ROTC facility.

Neither has to be convicted of all the counts in Bergen to be sent to prison for life.

Aakash Dalal with defense attorney Brian Neary
(STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

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Aakash Dalal (MUGSHOT: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul (EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

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Saturday, 21 January 2012 19:10 Richard E. Schultz

AN OFFICER WRITES : The coward who firebombed the home of Rabbi Rosson Schuman and his family failed to produce the terror, silence or cries for vengeance that such incendiary devices are meant for. No. The hateful act offered the Rutherford rabbi an opportunity to deliver a message that is as important now as ever. READ MORE….

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