Man Arrested for Adas Israel Synagogue Fire, Not a Hate Crime Yet Police Say

36-year-old Matthew James Amiot of Duluth arrested for arson in the first degree.

DULUTH, Minn.- Duluth Police announced that they have arrested a suspect for starting the Adas Israel Synagogue fire last Monday.

36–year–old Matthew Amiot was arrested for first degree arson on Friday, but right now police say there is no evidence that this was a hate crime.

The suspect is being held at St. Louis County Jail. No formal charges have been filed, though Police Chief Mike Tusken said they are recommending arson in the first degree.

Amiot has no permanent address. Authorities are still determining what his motive was.

“We’re not out for vengeance, all I can find out of this event is sadness,” said Rabbi Phillip Sher, past President of the Synagogue.

At a press conference Sunday morning Duluth Police and Fire revealed the arrest.

“A decision is made at that time to effect a probable cause arrest of Matthew Amiot for arson,” Chief Mike Tusken said. “Amiot is located, arrested, and interviewed on Friday afternoon.”

The blaze ripped through the historic synagogue on East 3rd Street early Monday morning last week, burning it to the ground.

“We’ve had a loss. And it’s very much as if we’ve lost a family member,” said Sher.

Right now police believe Amiot acted alone, but evidence doesn’t point to him igniting the blaze as a hate crime.

“Based on all the info that I have reviewed, that I’ve read, the investigators that I’ve talked to, there is, at this moment in time, there is no reason to believe this is a bias or hate crime,” Tusken said.

Other religious leaders are hesitant that this isn’t motivated by hate.

Imam Mohamed Omar came up from the Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, which was bombed by white supremacists last year.

“To stand in solidarity with our Jewish community in Duluth, and I and my community, we are very aware of what it feels to be the receiving end of an arson or attack,” said the Imam.

Meanwhile, Amiot has had run ins with the police before, Tusken said.

“We’ve had multiple contacts, there has been some arrests and they have not been of nearly the significance of this charge,” he said.

Sher said he is relieved a person was caught, but it’s still unsettling to know that the fire was allegedly started by a person, not by something natural.

“It’s a sad comment on society that someone would want to do that to anybody’s building,” he said.

“It’s a little frightening, it’s a little frightening.”

In light of the fire, the surrounding Jewish community is sending a message of courage and strength in belief.

“We should not be afraid to be Jewish,” said Rabbi Mendy Ross, Director of Chabad of Duluth.

“The more that we are Jewish, the more we act Jewish, and the more we are proud to be Jewish then the less maybe people are looking at us as the other.”

Imam Omar hopes that if the fire is found to be a hate crime, that authorities treat it as a serious attack, to send a message that aggression towards minorities will not be tolerated.

“If this is a hate crime, please call it it’s a terrorist attack and let’s deal, let’s call what it is, let’s call it what it is,” he said.

And Sher said while their place of worship is gone, their faith still remains.

“True Judaism is in the heart, it’s not in the building,” he said.

“And our legacy will go on with our hearts.”

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