New details in Neighbours arson case as SPD casts wide net for evidence

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From an online account listed in court documents as belonging to Musmari

From online accounts listed in court documents as belonging to Musmari

New court documents in the case against alleged Neighbours arsonist Musab Musmari reveal how Seattle Police detectives have asked tech and communication giants like Google and Facebook for help and how the FBI gathered evidence of Musmari’s “potential terrorist activity,” “a possible federal hate crime” and “federal arson.”

Musmari currently is charged with one count of first degree arson for the alleged New Year’s fire attack on Broadway’s Neighbours dance club. The 30-year-old former Harvard Ave E resident pleaded not guilty to the charges in February.

The new documents in the sprawling investigation show how SPD is casting a net into the pools of data and customer records at the big companies that provide online and phone services as authorities search for evidence that Musmari’s alleged attack targeted Neighbours because of the club’s presence in Seattle’s gay community. Here is a portion of the department’s search warrant request sent to Microsoft:Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 9.23.56 PM

The documents also detail the role the FBI has played as it used a confidential informant to learn more about Musmari’s activities as part of its terrorism and hate crime investigation.

“The hate crime, if evidence were developed of that crime, would be based on the fact that Neighbours is primarily a business catering to LGBTQ clientele,” the court filings read. According to the documents, the informant contacted the FBI on January 7th after meeting with Musmari, who has also gone by the names Masmari and AlMesmari, at Fatima’s Cafe on E Union. That element of the case was reported earlier. But the documents detail the FBI’s continued use of the informant for weeks following that first meeting:

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The informant, who police say has prior convictions for unlawful imprisonment, making a terror threat and criminal contempt, told SPD detectives that Musmari had expressed a hatred of gay people:

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Other witnesses also told police Musmari said he had been kicked out of Neighbours in the past.

Police say the January 13th release of images from surveillance video taken inside Neighbours spurred “numerous tips in which callers said the person looked like” the suspect. Police say one witness told them Musmari “indicated concern about the media coverage. The next day, a travel agent booked a one way airline ticket for Musmari, police say.

In addition to the search warrants with online services and phone companies, phone recording with the confidential informant and the information provided by witnesses who called to report details like Musmari’s alleged past problems with Neighbours following the release of surveillance images from the club, police are gathering broader components for the case. According to the documents, police have information from people inside Neighbours who saw a man fitting Musmari’s description in the club’s balcony sitting at one of the VIP tables before flames broke out nearby. They have also so far unsuccessfully scoured records from nearby gas stations to find out if the fuel used to soak the stairway inside the club before it was set on fire was purchased in the area. Aiding the search is a laptop, phones and credit card information detectives are in the process of examining as they seek court permission and service provider compliance to follow the information trail. Police are also seeking evidence of any photographs Musmari may have taken at or nearby Neighbours.

The new information also includes details of the role played by an associate who police say was with Musmari when he was arrested on February 1st and, according to police, was about to drive Musmari to the airport. The Musmari friend told detectives he bought the suspect a ticket to Turkey in exchange for the title to Musmari’s car:

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Updates from a Facebook account police believe to be Musmari's

Updates from a Facebook account police believe to be Musmari’s. Many are typical. Others — like a series of photos noting “insects are always around!” are bizarre.

The unnamed friend is referred to as a witness in the document. We do not know if the person faces charges in the investigation. According to police, the witness visited Musmari in jail following his February 1st arrest. During the visit, the witness said Musmari told him “he had started a fire and was involved.”

In a new twist, while they don’t indicate how authorities discovered that an airline ticket had been allegedly purchase for Musmari, the documents reveal that the purchase of a one-way ticket to Turkey by Musmari’s friend had been cancelled “because something went wrong with the booking.”

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 12.12.52 PM_MM2“The agent reports having sent Masmari an email about the cancellation,” the court document reads. “Masmari may not have received that message.”

Musmari is jailed on $1 million bail. The next hearing in his case is slated for April.

UPDATE 3/25/2014 4:26 PM: Here is the primary search warrant document filed last week in the case:

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6 thoughts on “New details in Neighbours arson case as SPD casts wide net for evidence

  1. No comment yet from Phil regarding the SPD/FBI’s investigation and invasion of privacy? (lol).

    It’s certainly chilling that Musmari had a rifle at home…..glad he is behind bars.

  2. Bob: You can tee-hee about this like a child, or you can join me in demanding that our government either get a warrant specifying what evidence of what crime they suspect they’ll find if given special permission to perform otherwise-unlawful searches. When it comes to protection from unwarranted search, including a prohibition on general warrants like those people fought in the American Revolution to end, the ends do not justify the means.

    I’m glad police found a suspect and are investigating the crime. It sounds like they had all the leads they needed from the public after Neighbours side-stepped the police and publicized the photos.

    Still no word on what evidence of arson SPD staff convinced a judge they’d find if they went trawling around in travel records, huh?

  3. My money is still on SPD staff concocting a parallel investigation to cover up their use of data collected unconstitutionally by U.S. government snoops, which may be one of those investigative methods that City Council found too sensitive for public discussion but not qualified for reservation to executive session when Councilmember Bruce Harrel said, “A lot of what [our peace officers] do relative to criminal investigations, it’s a little–It’s sensitive information how they go about establishing probable cause, how often they conduct these criminal investigations, where they do it. And this is not the kind of conversation that you have in executive session ’cause it doesn’t fall under one of the exemptions.”

    This is not likely something we’ll be able to determine, because 1) federal staff are great at this tactic and known to coach local police on it, and 2) anybody who expresses much concern about the bigger picture is likely to be shouted down by those who, in their fit of justifiable rage over the situation, drop any concern they might have had about how evidence is gathered, so long as it’s useful in the end.

  4. Pingback: Times: Feds taking over Neighbours arson case | CHS Capitol Hill Seattle