[Photo Source: ScreenShot via YouTube]
By: Sunita Sohrabji
After two days of deliberation following a five-week trial, a jury Nov. 1 found Indian American Aakash Dalal guilty of terrorism and 16 felony counts for his role in a series of fire-bombings at New Jersey temples five years ago.
Dalal, 24, faces 30 years to life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 21. The former Rutgers University student has been in custody – largely in solitary confinement – since his arrest in March 2012. The fire-bombings took place between late 2011 and early 2012.
The defendant has consistently maintained that he was not in New Jersey when the attacks occurred, and was in New Hampshire, working on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. But prosecutors have said that Dalal masterminded the attacks, and taught his conspirator how to make Molotov cocktails.
Dalal’s dad, Adarsh Dalal, had not returned calls for comment by press time Nov. 1 evening. He told India-Westin 2013 that Aakash had no animosity for any community, and could not have committed the heinous acts he was accused of.
“My son has no anger for anyone. His is a message of peace, not violence,” Adarsh Dalal told this publication.
During the five-week trial in Hudson County Superior Court in New Jersey, prosecutors revealed that Dalal had egged on his co-conspirator Anthony Graziano into vandalizing and fire-bombing the synagogues. Graziano was convicted in May of 19 felony counts of arson and bias intimidation, and is awaiting sentencing.
The pair plotted the attacks via text messages. “I don’t trust you until you kill a Jew,” Dalal allegedly told Graziano via instant messenger. After a particularly heinous attack in Rutherford, New Jersey, which occurred while a rabbi and his family were sleeping in the building, the pair boasted about a Molotov cocktail hitting the rabbi’s bed.
“Next time, burn the place down,” said Dalal, via messaging. “Definitely,” said Graziano.
Dalal was convicted of terrorism for the Rutherford attack. That charge alone carries a sentence of 30 years to life in prison. He was also found guilty for conspiracy to commit arson, arson, bias intimidation, possession of a weapon and possession of a destructive device in the Rutherford firebombing.
Dalal’s attorney, Brian Neary, told northjersey.com after the verdict was announced that Dalal’s parents were very disappointed and planned to appeal the conviction, based on their belief that the terrorism statute invoked in the case – created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks – was improperly used in this case.
“The statute itself might be unconstitutional,” Neary told the local publication, adding that Dalal’s crimes “don’t put an entire population at the same level of fear as the World Trade Center.” He plans to file an appeal for a new trial.
Dalal is also accused of conspiracy to murder an assistant prosecutor; he will be tried separately for that charge.
This story was originally published on India West.