“I Made the Fire,” Chinese Consulate Suspect Tells FBI

"I made the fire," suspect allegedly told feds

Five days after the Chinese Consulate was torched by a person seen pouring two buckets of gasoline on the San Francisco building, the FBI announced the arrest of a 39-year-old Daly City Chinese national "who heard voices" in connection with the blaze.

The FBI on Monday named Yan Feng as the person agents arrested following the Jan. 1 blaze at 1450 Laguna Street in the city's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. Feng self-surrendered to Daly City police by calling them two days afterward, according to the FBI, who said in court documents (PDF) that when he called, he said in Mandarin: "I made the fire."

Feng did not enter a plea on Monday. His next court date is scheduled for Jan. 15.

Court papers allege Feng set three explosive devices at the consulate, which caused "significant property damage" and endangered the lives of those near the area at the time.

Special FBI Agent-in-Charge David Johnson told reporters at a news conference that authorities do not believe there are any ties to terrorism, and that the fire was "an isolated incident."

The FBI did not state any possible motive for why Feng -- a Chinese national who is a permanent U.S. resident -- would have allegedly set the fire. But, according to the federal criminal complaint, Yeng told FBI agents that he had targeted the Chinese Consulate because "all the voices he had been hearing were in Chinese and the Chinese Consulate had to have been involved."

Feng was charged with "maliciously" damaging by means of fire or explosives property belong to a foreign establishment and arson.

In federal criminal court papers, FBI Agent Michael Eldridge said that he watched surveillance video outside the consulate building that shows a driver exiting a 2002 Honda Odyssey minivan parked in front of the consulate about 9 p.m., returning to the minivan and waiting there for about 20 minutes before "loitering" on the side of the van for a a few minutes. The person carried some "objects" away from the van and put them in front of the consulate, Eldridge wrote. At 9:32 p.m., a fireball erupted and the "individual walks away from the scene" and returned to the minivan, court papers state. The minivan has since been recovered.

Eldridge said the suspect had long black hair, a thin build and was wearing glasses and a dark blue pullover and pants. The FBI did not immediately provide a photo of Feng.

After Feng made the phone call, court papers state that on Jan. 3, he acknowledged to several agents that he bought a gas container and brought two others from his home to the Chinese Consulate, smoked a cigarette and then tried to light a fire with his passport, which didn't work, and finally used a "large black lighter" to ignite one of the containers, according to the criminal complaint.

The voices in his head were the only reason stated for why he targed the consulate building.

Following the arrest, state Senator Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) stated, in part: “I am relieved to hear an arrest has been made in the arson at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco. Such acts of violence cannot and will not be tolerated in our community."

MORE: Fire, "Violent Crime" at Chinese Consulate in San Francisco

Chinese Central Television provided photos of the fireball raging at the front door. The next morning, the front door was charred, and glass shattered all over the sidewalk. One of the two stone decorative lions in front of the building was blackened, another was not. No one was hurt in the fire that charred the building's doorway, damaged the lobby and burned toward the roof.

Still, the Chinese took the fire as a serious "despicable" affront.
"We strongly condemn this vicious, destructive act of arson towards the American consulate of China, which severely damaged the facilities and threatened the safety of consulate personnel and others," the statement said following the attack.
On Monday, Consul General Wang Xiang issued this statement: "We have noted the efforts made by the U.S. side to investigate into the arson attack and require that the perpetrator be brought to justice."
Xian added: "We urge the U.S. side to learn lessons from this incident, take effective measures to ensure the safety, security and dignity of Chinese diplomatic and consulate missions and staff in the U.S. and prevent the recurrence of similar incidents.''
In March 2008 the Chinese consulate in San Francisco was similarly attacked, when a group of people poured a flammable liquid onto the building's back gate and set it ablaze before China hosted the Summer Olympics in Beijing amid human rights protest. The FBI does not believe there is a connection between the two attacks.

NBC Bay Area's Christie Smith contributed to this report.

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