German man due in court over LA arson spree

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A German man with an anti-US gripe is due in court Wednesday over a four-day arson spree in Los Angeles, officials said, as details emerged of diplomatic moves which led to his arrest.

Harry Burkhart, 24, was detained in early hours of Monday after the fourth night of deliberately-set fires centred on Hollywood, which caused millions of dollars in damage over the New Year holiday.

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

On Tuesday the State Department confirmed that it had tipped off the LA Police Department about Burkhart because he was connected with another German national subject to an arrest warrant in Germany.

A spokeswoman did not identify that person, but Burkhart's mother is fighting deportation from the United States, and is wanted in Germany on 19 counts of fraud, according to newly-released court documents.

"There was a provisional German arrest warrant, and we were working on that case with the Germans," said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington.

"It was on the basis of that that they recognized Burkhart himself and were able to ... share the information we had developed with the Germans on the case with LAPD, which was helpful to them in making the arrest," she added.

Burkhart's mother Dorothee meanwhile told a federal judge in Los Angeles on Tuesday that her son was mentally ill, as she appeared in court, apparently unaware that her son had been arrested over the arsons.

"My first question is, where is my son?" the woman shouted. "Since yesterday he's not available. What did you do to my son?" she said, according to the LA Times newspaper.

"Where is he? Dead? ... Maybe the German Nazi know our address," she said, adding in broken English: "He is mental ill."

Documents unsealed at the hearing showed that she is wanted in Germany on 19 counts of fraud, mostly accusing her of cheating apartment tenants out of their security deposits.

She is due back in court on Friday for an extradition hearing.

The developments came after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Monday that her son was charged with one count of arson of an inhabited dwelling and is currently being held without bail.

The LA 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.

In all there were 53 deliberately-set fires in Hollywood and surrounding LA districts, causing more than $2 million in damage, triggering a massive inter-agency taskforce to reel in the city's most prolific arsonist in years.

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

"Our long four-day nightmare is over," said Zev Yaroslavsky, a member of the LA Board of Supervisors representing West Hollywood.

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."

© 2012 AFP

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