Bringing closure to a five-year-long combined effort of law enforcement officials, prosecutors and community members, convicted terrorists Anthony Graziano and Aakash Dalal were sentenced in a Bergen County court on Friday and will now each serve 35 years in prison. This case, the first to employ the state’s anti-terrorism statute, carried a mandatory sentence of at least 30 years and up to life in prison.
In 2012, the New Jersey Jewish community was shocked by an unusually horrific string of anti-Semitic attacks: Synagogues in Maywood and Hackensack were vandalized, two fire bombings were attempted on synagogues in Paramus and Rutherford, and a fire bomb was thrown into Rabbi Nosson Schuman’s house. Roughly a month after the first of these attacks, the perpetrators were arrested by police—two 19-year-olds, Anthony Graziano and Aakash Dalal. Charged with first-degree bias intimidation, first-degree aggravated arson and multiple counts of attempted first-degree murder, both were found guilty on nearly all charges. Most importantly, both were convicted and found guilty on the charge of terrorism.
Though Graziano’s lawyers attempted to pass off the bombings as “pranks,” text messages from Dalal to Graziano indicated that the attacks were motivated by anti-Semitism and had intent to kill; “I don’t trust you until you kill a Jew,” one text read. In another conversation, Dalal said the following of Graziano’s
earliest attempt: “Basically no damage. It did nothing. You haven’t proven yourself.”
Dalal, who was accused of being the “brains” of the operation, and of convincing Graziano of anti-Semitic views, received broad support from his local Indian-American community. The community claimed that Dalal was treated unfairly, having served two years in solitary confinement before being convicted, with his bail increased from $2.5 million to $4 million after a fellow inmate claimed that Aakash was planning to kill Bergen County assistant prosecutor Martin Delaney. A now-defunct website that had been created to support Dalal, supportaakashdalal.com, attempted to dispel a number of the charges against him. The community attempted on Friday to get his sentence reduced, to no avail.
The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement released after the indictment in 2013, said that the “indictments send an important message that anti-Semitic attacks on the community are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.” It also noted that this is the first case to bring charges under New Jersey’s Anti-Terrorism Act, which became law in response to the 9/11 terror attacks, and which define terrorism as conspiring or threatening to commit certain crimes with the intention of promoting an act of terror or terrorizing five or more individuals.
Prior to the sentencing hearing, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office asked the Jewish community to fill the courtroom in an effort to show the devastating psychological impact of the two men’s actions.
By Dov Greenwood
Dov Greenwood was a summer intern at The Jewish Link who recently graduated from The Frisch school. He will be attending Yeshivat Har Etzion this coming year.