German man due in court over LA arson attacks

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A German man with a gripe against the United States is due in court Wednesday over a four-day arson spree that caused millions of dollars in damage in Los Angeles, officials said.

Harry Burkhart, 24, was arrested early Monday after the fourth night of deliberately-set fires, centered on the Hollywood district and San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.

He is due to make an initial appearance in court in Van Nuys, northwest of Los Angeles, on Wednesday morning, said officials, after LA municipal chiefs welcomed his arrest as the end of "our four-day nightmare."

Burkhart has been charged "with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling and is currently being held without bail," Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said late Monday.

"We expect that as the investigation continues he will face additional charges," the mayor said about Burkhart, who also was identified by news outlets as a German national living in Hollywood.

In all, there have been 53 deliberately-set fires in Hollywood and surrounding parts of Los Angeles, causing more than $2 million in damage, said officials, who launched a massive taskforce to reel in the city's most prolific arsonist in years.

No one was killed or seriously injured in the attacks -- although one firefighter was injured -- but residents were clearly rattled by the fires, most of which targeted cars parked either outside homes or in car ports under buildings.

"Our long four-day nightmare is over," said Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the LA Board of Supervisors representing West Hollywood. "I haven't had a good night's sleep since last week, and I'm looking forward to one tonight."

Los Angeles Police Department chief Charlie Beck said: "I feel very good that we've got the right guy.... The suspect had the right stuff in his van, and we are very confident we found our man."

Two other suspects, age 55 and 22, were detained after the attacks started last week but it was not clear whether they had been released or were being held in connection with possible copy-cat arson attacks.

The task force had released surveillance video of the man suspected of setting the blazes, and the Los Angeles Times reported that an official involved in an immigration court case attended by Burkhart quickly identified him as the man in the tape.

The Times reported that Burkhart may have been upset about his mother's legal woes.

Burkhart "erupted in a tirade, spewing angry anti-American statements" at a recent immigration hearing regarding his mother's case, the newspaper said, citing a senior LAPD official.

But authorities declined to comment about reports that an immigration dispute with his mother could have been a factor in the crimes.

Hours after the release of the video, a Beverly Hills attorney who works as a reserve police deputy for just $1 a year spotted the suspect and made the arrest on the streets of West Hollywood.

"Thank you to the two officers who backed me up," Shervin Lalezary told a press conference.

"As soon as I put on my lights and initiated a traffic stop of the suspect vehicle, I had an LAPD vehicle behind me ready to go."

The suspect arrested in the early hours of Monday was shown in news footage, with a ponytail and smiling as officers discussed what to do with him.

© 2012 AFP

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