Aakash Dalal accused of plotting, encouraging friend's attacks on Bergen County Jewish community
Nineteen year old Aakash Dalal was the brains behind a string of attacks that terrorized the Bergen County Jewish community between December and January, police alleged on Friday.
Aakash Dalal, a Lodi resident and student at Rutgers University, is the second man arrested in connection to the attacks, which began as petty vandalism and took a violent turn with the firebombing of two synogogues last month.
Another 19-year-old Lodi man, Anthony M. Graziano, is accused of wielding the Molotov cocktails that were thrown into the window of the Congregation Beth El temple in Rutherford. But police say Dalal, Graziano's childhood friend, was behind the scenes, prodding him along.
Officials released excerpts of alleged instant message conversations between the two men recovered by a computer forensics expert with the Bergen County Prosecutor's office Friday. The often graphic exchanges offer a glimpse into what Molinelli described as a "student-teacher" relationship between Graziano, identified as "AG," and Dalal, identified as "AD."
In one such exchange, after a fire ignited behind the Congregation K'Hal Adath Jeshuran in Paramus fizzled out, the two allegedly express disappointment:
AD: Basically no damage. It did nothing. You haven't proven yourself.
AG: So how much damage would be acceptable?
AD: Serious damage. Or total burnage.
"Mr. Dalal was the teacher, and Mr. Graziano was the student," Molinelli told NJ.com on Friday. "And Mr. Dalal would tell Mr. Graziano what he had to do, as you saw in one of the slides, to satisfy the requirement."
He is charged with aggravated arson, conspiracy to commit aggravated arson, bias intimidation and two counts of criminal mischief. He's being held on $2.5 million bail.
Graziano, who has already plead not guilty to his charges, faces additional counts after the investigation found that both men were present in the cases of anti-Semitic graffiti at Jewish temples in December of last year, Molinelli said.
Dalal, whose academic status at Rutgers is unclear, was described as a religious agnostic. It remains unclear where he and Graziano allegedly developed anti-Semitic views. The two were not members of any known hate groups, Molinelli said.
In the alleged exchanges, the two discuss the media coverage of the attacks, fueled by the attention but disappointed with the outcome of the Paramus attack. On Jan. 8, Graziano allegedly told Dalal that he "finally found an all wood synagogue."
It was the Congregation Beth El temple in Rutherford, where authorities allege Graziano flung Molotov cocktails into the windows of the upstairs residence while Rabbi Nosson Schuman and his family slept on Jan. 11.
“In hindsight, it makes sense that they are two [suspects],” Schuman told The Record Friday. “The person they caught today is more the mastermind behind the attacks, and Graziano is the pawn carrying out the attacks.”
Molinelli said the two also mocked law enforcement. In one of the exchanges released Friday, Dalal allegedly tells Graziano, "Molinelli is going to lose his [expletive] job."
Molinelli also revealed Friday that Graziano was in the process of obtaining a gun when he was apprehended in January.
"I am certain that we were within weeks away of a tragedy," he said.
Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, told reporters on Friday that she was relieved by the second arrest.
"We on behalf of the Jewish community, are extremely gratified to hear this news," she said. "I can't commend law enforcement enough."