On Tuesday afternoon, a jury in Hackensack found Aakash Dalal guilty of 17 counts, including terrorism charges, for his role in masterminding the attacks on Bergen County synagogues in December 2011 and January 2012.
The attacks began with graffiti on Temple Beth Israel in Maywood. That could have been dismissed as a rash act, but when there were more attacks at different synagogues, culminating in the actual throwing of Molotov cocktails at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford, the situation grew frightening.
Public officials responded reassuringly. Police stepped up patrols in towns throughout the county, and the Bergen County Prosecutors Office made the investigation a top priority.
Before long, detective work fingered Anthony Graziano as the man who bought the ingredients for the Rutherford bombs. And then other clues — including a mysterious message left as a comment on the Jewish Standard’s website — fingered Dalal as a co-conspirator and partner in some of the crimes.
In May, in a separate trial, Graziano was convicted of terrorism and other charges. In Dalal’s trial, prosecutors brought in text messages proving that he egged on Graziano, promising that he could be “fuhrer” some day. The two of them, the trial showed, gloated, as the Jewish community held solidarity evenings with the attacked synagogues.
The guilty verdict showed that Dalal’s attorneys efforts to minimize his responsibility failed to convince the jury. And it showed that Dalal sought to incite fear in more than five people, as the state’s post-9/11 terrorism statute required.
The verdict showed, importantly but not surprisingly, that we are blessed to be in a place where crimes against our community are prosecuted seriously.
Dalal’s fate, like Graziano’s, will be decided at sentencing. They face life in prison.
Our one disappointment in the trial is this: While the prosecution proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Dalal hated Jews, it failed to answer the most vexing question. How did he come to that hatred? What led a Rutgers student down a path that ended with him and a friend facing years behind bars, their lives permanently warped by their youthful hate? It is a question that remains as the distressingly unsolved mystery of the case.