Multiple news outlets in Seattle are reporting that the suspect in the New Year’s Eve arson attempt at the popular gay nightclub Neighbours might have been identified. Reports conflict on whether the police have named the man as a “person of interest” or if they are just “interested in talking to him.” The man being discussed is well-known to local business owners and has been arrested four times since last May. The Seattle Stranger yesterday posted the above photo from the man’s Facebook page.
From the Stranger:
Seattle police confirmed in a voice mail today that the person of interest in the New Year’s Eve arson case—in which a person allegedly poured gasoline on the stairs of a crowded gay nightclub and then lit it ablaze—is Musab Mohamed Masmari. The police estimated that some 750 people were inside Neighbours nightclub at the time of the arson attack. Several photos were posted on the SPD Blotter of a man carrying an object which may have been the gas can that was found later at the scene. The SPD chose not to release surveillance video, but Neighbours released security camera footage to local TV stations last weekend. They show what appears to be a man with receding hair and thick eyebrows walking around the club.
Seattle Municipal Court records show Masmari faced several criminal charges in 2013, including assault, violation of an anti-harassment order, property destruction, and obstructing a police officer. An active case concerns an assault for which Masmari was initially booked into jail in July 2013. A “guilty finding [was] entered” by a jury, according to records from the Seattle Municipal Court, and Masmari appeared in court for sentencing on January 16—three days after SPD posted the photos and more than two weeks after the arson incident. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and allowed to leave temporarily on work-release. He is due to appear in court for his jail sentence on February 18.
From Capitol Hill Seattle:
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. 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.”
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.
A spokesman for Neighbours is furious that Masmari has not yet been arrested.
“I think the police should bring him in for questioning,” says Shaun Knittel, who is handling media for the Capitol Hill nightclub and is president of the gay-advocacy group Social Outreach Seattle. “I don’t understand the delay. What are they biding their time for?” “The community needs to feel safe,” Knittel continues. “It’s not just about Neighbours. If there is someone out there trying to hurt one business, then they might be willing to hurt another. This is the one guy they wanted to ID, and three weeks into this [investigation], they have a name. I don’t get the game that they are playing.” The Seattle Police Department’s media bureau—which has several staffers—has not answered its telephone today, nor have SPD spokespeople responded to e-mails and voice mails seeking comments.
Watch a Seattle television report on this latest development.