SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors on Monday charged a 39-year-old man with arson in connection with a fire at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco on New Year’s day, after deciding not to treat the incident as an act of terrorism.
Yan Feng turned himself into local police on Friday, two days after the Chinese consulate in San Francisco sustained fire and smoke damage, FBI special agent David Johnson said at a news conference on Monday. Feng currently faces two criminal charges, including arson.
After surrendering to law enforcement, Feng told investigators that he targeted the consulate “because all the voices he had been hearing were in Chinese and the Chinese Consulate had to have been involved,” according to an FBI affidavit filed in court.
“We’re looking at it purely as a criminal matter,” Johnson said at the press conference.
Feng’s attorney, Steven Kalar, declined to comment on the case. Feng appeared in court on Monday but did not enter a plea, and he remained in custody, a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman said.
An FBI spokesman said the agency believes Feng is a U.S. permanent resident but did not disclose his birthplace.
Protests are common outside Chinese diplomatic missions in Western countries, but acts of violence are rare. No one was injured in the incident. In a statement on Monday, the Chinese consulate in San Francisco said it will closely follow Feng’s case.
“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,” the consulate said.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf last week said the United States takes the incident “very seriously.”
The gate set on fire is around the corner from where most of the public enters the building. A small group of staff members was in the building when it was attacked, consulate spokesman Wang Chuan said last week.
The San Francisco Fire Department said it received a report of a fire at 9:33 p.m. PST (0533 GMT, January 2), arrived on the scene within two minutes and brought the fire under control within six minutes, and turned over the investigation to the FBI.
Feng lives in Daly City, California, just south of San Francisco, according to court documents. Two days after the fire, Feng called the Daly City Police Department and identified himself as the individual who “made the fire” in front of the Chinese Embassy in San Francisco, the FBI affidavit states.
Feng told investigators that he drove his green minivan to a gas station in San Francisco and filled three containers with gasoline, according to the FBI statement. He then proceeded to the consulate, poured gas on the door and steps and lit one of the containers on fire, the filing states.
Feng then returned to his minivan and drove home.
The case in U.S. District Court, Northern District of California is United States of America vs. Yan Feng, 14-mc-70011.
Reporting by Dan Levine and Sarah McBride; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Cynthia Osterman and Steve Orlofsky