With reporting by Bryan Cohen
A north Broadway business owner and others who had run-ins with the man have identified a possible person of interest in the New Year’s arson at Neighbours nightclub. But police would not yet say whether they have questioned the man or if he is a suspect in the case.
The Stranger’s Dominic Holden reported that SPD confirmed Thursday that Musab Mohamed Masmari is the person of interest in the case but detectives would provide no further information.
UPDATE 12:55 PM: In an email to CHS, SPD spokesperson Detective Renee Witt said public affairs has not confirmed Masmari as a person of interest.
“We have not confirmed anything with anyone simply because we don’t have that info. The subject in the pictures that detectives are interested in talking to on the Neighbours arson is just that- a person detectives are interested in talking to. We only name suspects.”
When CHS contacted SPD about the person of interest earlier this week, detectives from the Seattle Police arson and bomb unit told us Wednesday they could not confirm details in the case but that they are still seeking information from the public after releasing still images of a man witnesses said was acting suspiciously inside the club before the fire broke out. Police have not released the video those images were taken from but a representative for the club decided to put the video online last week as the investigation continued to drag on.
The business owner and others CHS has spoken to about the situation say the man is a familiar face for many on north Broadway. Two people familiar with the former Capitol Hill resident said they contacted police immediately after detectives released surveillance images of a man seen acting unusually inside the club as the flames broke out.
CHS has reviewed reported assaults, an obstruction charge and no contact orders against him in a series of recent brushes with the law in the last year.
CHS was in the courtroom last week when Masmari received a 30-day jail sentence following a recent conviction. Masmari told the judge he intends to participate in a work-release program to allow him to keep his job at a gas station. He was also ordered to undergo a mental evaluation. His lawyer said he planned to appeal the decision. Masmari declined to speak with CHS under advice of his attorney.
CHS reported on a DUI incident last spring in the 600 block of Harvard Ave E involving Masmari. Prior to the arrest, Masmari worked as a delivery driver with a Capitol Hill pizza shop. In July, a Seattle woman filed for a protection order against Masmari for a series of harassing incidents.
Several business owners in north Capitol Hill told CHS they have had run-ins with the man.
CHS spoke with a north Broadway business owner familiar with the person of interest who said he talked with police last week after the pictures were released and tips began coming in to SPD’s arson and bomb squad detectives. The Broadway business owner said that he and others were forced to “86″ the man from their venues after run-ins in recent months.
While he has a record of Seattle assaults and arrests that increased in frequency starting last spring, there is nothing in his criminal record at the level of the Neighbours crime.
CHS first reported on a person of interest identified in club security video a week after the New Year’s attack.
According to Shaun Knittel who has been acting as spokesperson for Neighbours, surveillance video shows a man entering the packed club via the smoking area just before midnight. He is believed to be carrying a concealed canister of gasoline later found at the scene. Police say a small red gasoline can was found at the top of the stairs where the fire originally spread before being extinguished by a quick acting patron and employee.
At this point, we are not aware of any direct connection between Masmari and Neighbours. Despite the club’s long history in gay culture, police and city officials have been careful not to call the arson attempt a hate crime or an act of terrorism.
Despite the arrests and fights last year, Masmari continued to be a regular in the north Broadway community. Another business owner said he got into several arguments with one of his employees but continued to shop in the store without incident after the owner spoke with him.
Masmari had been a resident living near Broadway and Roy but at his recent sentencing hearing he said he had since moved to the Eastside.
If you have information that might help the investigation, you can contact SPD detectives at (206) 684-8980.