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Police: ‘Numerous’ tips ID Neighbours arson suspect

Musmari at his January sentencing hearing for a 2013 assault (Image: CHS)

Musmari, right, and an interpreter at his January 2014 sentencing hearing for a 2013 assault. Musmari’s defense was in court Monday afternoon as a judge determined he should remained jailed while the suspect awaits a decision on charges by the King County Prosecutor’s office. (Image: CHS)

A King County judge ruled Monday afternoon that there is probable cause to continue jailing the man arrested this weekend in connection with the arson fire inside a packed Neighbours nightclub on New Year’s Eve.

The hearing for Musab Mohamed Musmari, 30, comes after he was booked into King County Jail on Saturday for investigation of arson. He remains in jail and is held without bail. He has not yet been charged with the crime. Seattle police arrested the suspect Saturday when investigators say he was on his way to the airport.

According to police, Musmari had a one-way ticket to Turkey and was carrying both his Libyan and United State passports at the time of his arrest outside his home Saturday. Police say “numerous” people called in to identify Musmari as the man seen in images from surveillance video recorded at the club the night of the attack.

The preliminary SPD report also lays out a timeline of the images captured by surveillance before and after the fire inside Neighbours:Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 3.36.34 PM

A bond hearing was delayed until Tuesday to arrange for an interpreter in the case. County prosecutors will weigh available evidence in determining whether they will charge Musmari and what those charges will be.The courtroom was filled with media there to cover the start of court proceedings in the case. A man who identified himself as a friend of Musmari’s who met him recently when renting an apartment from him in Bellevue was swarmed by reporters and said he attended the session to show support for a man he didn’t have “any reason to believe” was involved in the crime.

Following the January 1st attack, detectives from SPD’s Arson/Bomb Squad, and members of a Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated the case, according to police officials. Musmari’s arrest came after the month-long investigation that had frustrated some police tipsters who suspected Musmari might be the man shown in security footage. Last month detectives released surveillance images of a man seen acting unusually inside the club as the flames broke out. SPD said the man was a person of interest in the investigation, but would not confirm his identity.

UPDATE: The FBI issued a statement on the arrest and their part in the ongoing investigation:

On Saturday, February 1, 2014, the Seattle Police Department, working jointly with the FBI and other members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), arrested a subject in their investigation of the January 1, 2014 arson at Neighbours Nightclub in Capitol Hill.

The FBI offered its assistance to SPD in order to assess the possibility of a federal hate crime. The FBI participated in initial interviews with the subject on Saturday and continues to investigate the incident.

Police arrested the 30-year-old subject near Seattle as he was enroute to the airport.

The FBI joins SPD and its JTTF partners in appreciating the public’s assistance with the investigation. We consider all tips seriously and have brought many criminals to justice as a result of information provided by a concerned citizen.

CHS spoke with Broadway business owners and past victims of run-ins with Musmari who said they had contacted police after seeing the Neighbours images. Musmari, who also has a record under the last name Masmari, has a string of assaults and no contact violations on Capitol Hill. 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 attack on the longtime gay dance club. 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.

CHS reported on a DUI incident last spring in the 600 block of Harvard Ave E involving Musmari. Prior to the arrest, Musmari worked as a delivery driver with a Capitol Hill pizza shop.

In July, a Seattle woman filed for a protection order against Musmari for a series of harassing incidents including following the her and friends to Volunteer Park:

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 1.27.01 PM

1-7-2014-10-34-44-AM.png0007Another Musmari victim tells CHS the 30-year-old hit him with a pool cue in a July assault. Musmari was arrested and eventually found guilty. He has had multiple arrests in the meantime for violating court orders. In November, he pleaded not guilty to two counts of violating a civil protection order.

Musmari has been a resident living near Broadway and Roy, but at the recent sentencing hearing he said he had since moved to the Eastside. His Facebook profile lists Benghazi, Libya as his hometown. He was listed as living in Lynnwood in early 2009. CHS learned Musmari has had a U.S. passport since at least 2010.

Musmari is also scheduled to appear in Seattle Municipal Court on Tuesday for a hearing regarding his court-ordered mental health evaluation stemming from his recent conviction and sentence for an assault on Capitol Hill last summer. His lawyer has filed an appeal of the decision.

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30 thoughts on “Police: ‘Numerous’ tips ID Neighbours arson suspect

  1. Kind of surprising since he was an “Arab Cultural Ambassador” for the State Department when it hosted visiting Iraqi “journalists” in Seattle.

  2. Still no word on how they found out he had booked a flight, why a joint terrorism task force was involved, or which such task force it was?

    If the guy was under investigation for suspicion of attempted arson, it seems reasonable that police would have obtained a search warrant that allowed them to go trolling through his personal business. Let’s see it.

    • I think you just answered your own question about how they found out he’d booked a flight. Likely, they had search warrants issued (which could probably include monitoring his bank activity, etc.) and from there they’d see he was planning on skipping town.

      • A search warrant is not something that police “have issued.” It’s granted, sometimes, by a judge, after police tell the judge what they believe they will find when they engage in a search that would otherwise be unlawful for them to perform.

        How do you suppose monitoring bank activity could turn up evidence of arson committed or attempted weeks earlier?

      • It’s so difficult to write a sort post and not have it misinterpreted. I don’t agree with Phil’s opinion very much at all. But I’m lazy and don’t want to spend more than a few minutes writing.
        Lots of stories about Homeland Security all over the place and comments on the website say they spent $25 billion on the investigation to find this guy. How in the world could it cost that much for one crime?

      • I’m sorry Phil, I was deliberately being obtuse. No, I was meant I disagreed with your conclusion from the other article that he would end up condemned before a fair trial. I personally worry it would be the reverse.

      • I didn’t mean to say I think he’ll be condemned before a fair trial. I meant that whether he’s guilty of this crime or not, it’s likely that if the feds are involved (seemingly likely, given reports that “a joint terrorism task force” assisted), they’ll dig through all the information they have on him—most of it obtained without any warrant, in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment—then threaten him with whatever they can weave together, in an attempt to coerce him into pleading guilty to something. It’s also likely that the local cops got information obtained unlawfully by NSA and will use parallel construction (DEA, for instance, teach classes on it) to hide from the public the real source of the information.

      • Oh, my mistake. I wrote that if the “guy was under investigation for suspicion of attempted arson, it seems reasonable that police would have obtained a search warrant that allowed them to go trolling through his personal business.” You think such a conclusion is unreasonable?

      • I don’t think it’s reasonable to paint local law enforcement with the same brush once some federal agency is involved. They may be as in the dark and frustrated as any law abiding citizen.

      • I paint them with a very different brush. I still believe that as bad as we let things get with the minority of abusive cops at SPD, we exert a good deal of control over them. At the federal level, law enforcement and intelligence agents are completely out of control. Checks and balances have failed us.

        So when the local cops mention terrorism, then there are vague reports of them discovering that the suspect bought a one-way ticket out of town, I look with suspicion. I’m very curious how an arson investigation turned up an airline ticket and why terrorism investigators were involved.

  3. It is a good thing that the “joint terrorism task force” has been involved in this case, because their assistance was likely critical in finding and arresting this suspect. I don’t know if their methods were entirely legal or not (no one does, including Phil), but you can’t argue with the outcome.

    Just the fact that he was trying to flee to Turkey is very suspicious as to his guilt in the crime. Why else would he be taking this action? It seems quite reasonable to think that he knew the police were looking for him ands that he would be soon arrested if he didn’t leave the country.

    • We prohibit government from searching us without warrant for good reason. They could solve more crime if we suspended the U.S. Constitution and let them do whatever they please. But most of us do not want to live in a police state. When police do good things with evidence obtained unlawfully, we don’t allow it in court, and we do this because the danger of allowing them to violate our protections against intrusion upon our liberties is so dangerous that we are willing to forgo such evidence, no matter how useful it might be in prosecuting people for their wrongdoing.

      Reports from people who knew this suspect strongly suggest that he was mentally unstable. If these reports are accurate, he’s probably not acting rationally. Guilty or not, what is the likely response from someone in his position when faced with the situation that was unfolding last week? It would take a clear mind, a lot of nerve and a lot of belief in our system of justice to stick around.

      The reported attempt to flee might indicate effort to evade repercussions for something he did. My gut feeling is that this is precisely what it did indicate. Or, it might indicate that he lives in a nation where someone with his name, religion, political views, or skin color doesn’t feel that he is likely to get a fair trial. Maybe he shares my concern that whether or not he did that of which he is suspected, once the feds get involved, all that matters is what they can threaten him with and how hard they will attempt to coerce him into pleading guilty to anything in order to avoid a lengthy trial (possibly following a lengthy pre-trial detention in torturous conditions) that would likely leave him bankrupt if not in prison.

      Regardless of any of that, we need to find out how the Seattle Police Department learned that he made travel arrangements. It seems unlikely that someone could convince a judge that a search of airline records would turn up evidence of arson. Watching a suspect, staking out his home, following him around: All acceptable. Detaining him for questioning: Also acceptable. Digging into NSA’s bag of dirty tricks: Not okay, no matter the outcome.

      Let’s see the search warrant.

      • “It seems unlikely that someone could convince a judge that a search of airline records would turn up evidence of arson.”

        It’s really much more simple than that. The boilerplate warrant likely included the review and monitoring of credit card and bank transactions.

      • Phil, as you say, evidence obtained unlawfully is not admissible in court…so I’m sure the police take great care to not do that, because that would jeopardize any prosecution. You seem to be assuming there was no search warrant, but that remains to be seen. And why do you also assume that the NSA’s “dirty tricks” was what led to his arrest? Isn’t it possible that the SPD, after obtaining a warrant, found evidence of the airline flight in his possessions? Or, that they found a way to legally obtain airline records?

        It is a good thing that Musmari was arrested, and I think the SPD and/or NSA should be commended, not condemned for what they may (or may not) have done.

      • It is undeniably good that this suspect was detained for questioning prior to his departure for Turkey. But the ends do not always justify the means.

        NSA are authorized to perform otherwise-unlawful surveillance of foreigners. I don’t like that, but I accept that this is their mandate, authorized by law. Unfortunately, they also perform surveillance of everyone. Thanks to Edward Snowden, this is not in dispute.

        We also know, thanks to Edward Snowden, that information collected by NSA, ostensibly for thedrastic and unusual purpose of avoiding and discovering terrorist activities, is passed to domestic law enforcement agencies for a variety of other uses. The two I remember reading about are the policies of NSA passing unlawfully-collected information to the IRS and to the DEA. DEA, in particular, have been found via to instruct law enforcement agencies on a tactic known as “parallel construction.” This allows police to use unlawfully-obtained evidence in their non-terrorism-related, non-foreign, work, then hide the fact that they did so from the public by constructing an entirely different chain of evidence. Whether it is helpful or not, it is a violation of the fundamental principles on which this nation was founded.

        That a joint terrorism task force got involved in this investigation makes it highly likely, I believe, that the police dipped into the United States government’s database of unlawfully obtained evidence.

        What do you suppose an SPD detective could tell a judge in order to convince that judge that a search of airline records would turn up evidence of arson?

        I do not dispute that it was useful to discover this suspect’s travel plans. But we already have a method for preventing suspects from fleeing—without participating in a system of violation of the Fourth Amendment—we have our police detain them. If they cannot be held and are at risk of flight, we have our judges require them to post bond before release so. If detainment is not practical, we have our police stake out their residences and follow them around.

        Let’s see the warrants.

      • And yes, I admit, as ERF noted, that our police have subverted the system of search warrants, and are sometimes able to obtain warrant to perform despicable actions that are not directly related to collection of evidence of a crime they believe exists that they would not otherwise be able to obtain. The JTTF involvement may be a red herring.

        Let’s see the warrants.

  4. I have known Musab for three to five years and over that time I have seen him go from an enjoyable, rational young man to a more and more unstable person. I believe mental help is what is called for here. He is certainly no terrorist.

    • Thank you for posting your perspective from your own personal knowledge. It does sound like a mental health issue first and foremost, and I hope whatever happens from here-on-out he is able to recover. Again, SO THANKFUL no one was hurt.

      I see there are debates about charges and warrants and SPD and JTTF and…let’s wait and see what happens. That said, condolences to all affected. Mental illness in all it’s myriad forms is difficult for all of us to deal with.

    • If this is the Musab I know, I agree. I met him a good while back and he seemed like a great guy. But things got worse and worse. I hope he gets the help he needs as well as the justice he deserves for such a destructive and hateful act, if it is indeed him who did it.

  5. Interesting story to link surf. It took me to three Israeli sources, one Egyptian two Tea Party sources, two fanatic right-wing blogs, one Idaho militia site, a couple LGBT blogs, zero mainstream American sources (non-local), one Montreal media outlet and a an endless list of further global destinations yet to visit.

    Terrorism, racism, left/right wing conflict, hate crime, mental/emotional instability…so many colorful speculations.

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