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Prosecutor: Bergen firebomb defendants chose synagogue made of wood

Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul

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.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins said the two alleged conspirators zeroed in on the wooden “gog” — their slang — because it would be easier to burn.

Higgins’ remarks came during a bail hearing for Aakash Dalal, who is charged with either planning or participating in a series of firebombings with Anthony Marco Graziano.

A judge, in turn, kept Dalal’s bail at $4 million.

This morning in Totowa, a group of religious leaders and law enforcement officials from throughout the state were holding their annual summer summit to discuss security measures and responses to bias attacks.

Topics are likely to include the Bergen County firebombings.

Anthony Marco Graziano (STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)

After Graziano discovered Congregation Beth El on Montross Avenue in Rutherford, Higgins said in court on Thursday, he texted Dalal to tell him.

“Once they found it, they had communications 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,” the assistant prosecutor said.

The Rutherford synagogue, which Higgins said also had several incendiary devices placed on its roof, 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.

Both defendants “set on a course to intimidate and defame and cause injury to individuals’ property and, as to Graziano, to injure people,” Higgins said. “They acted as partners on at least two occasions — when they defaced a synagogue in Maywood and once in Hackensack, Dalal was present.”

Defense attorney Brian 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 what authorities said was a conspiracy to kill Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Martin Delaney.

Neary is hoping 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.

Bergen County prosecutors say this is from surveillance video of Graziano leaving the Wal-Mart on Route 46 in Saddle Brook

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, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILOT last June.

The only reason Dalal nearly tasted freedom in the first place was because he convinced a state appeals court to drop his original bail from $2.5 million after a previous attorney argued that it was excessive.

The lawyer later said the murder conspiracy charges were based on work by a jailhouse snitch who wore a wire and “badgered, led and coerced” Dalal into making statements implicating him in a plot that he essentially had no intention of committing.

The firebombings stretched over a month, from Dec. 11, 2001 to Jan. 11 of last year.

They 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 indictment also cites 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, he 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 the prosecutor 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. Graziano, of Lodi, is charged with various offenses in the 30-count indictment returned by the grand jury three months ago.

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.

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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