Photo by Alexander Nguyen
Photo by Alexander Nguyen

A suspect was behind bars Wednesday in connection with a massive arson fire that destroyed an under-construction, seven-story apartment complex in downtown Los Angeles and burned so intensely it melted nearby freeway signs and damaged neighboring buildings.

Dawud Abdulwali, 56, of Los Angeles, was arrested Tuesday by the Los Angeles Police Department’s Anti-Terrorism Division in connection with the Dec. 8 blaze, according to the LAPD.

He is being held in lieu of more than $1 million bail, according to sheriff’s jail records.

The LAPD investigated the fire along with the Los Angeles Fire Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. LAFD officials have scheduled a 6 p.m. news conference to discuss the arrest.

The overnight fire caused $20 million to $30 million in damage to the DaVinci apartment complex.

In addition to gutting most of the DaVinci complex, the fire also damaged two nearby office towers owned by the city. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the fire caused about $50 million to $60 million in damage to city property.

The mayor said the arrest is proof that if a crime is committed, “we will arrest you, we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law.”

Rewards totaling $170,000 were offered for information leading to the person who set the blaze. It was not immediately clear if anyone would be eligible to claim the reward.

The blaze erupted about 1:30 a.m. in the complex near Temple and Fremont streets, just off the Harbor (110) and Hollywood (101) freeways. The 1.3 million-square-foot complex was largely in the framing stage, and at least two- thirds of the structure collapsed during the fire.     Investigators announced 10 days later that the fire was the result of arson, saying they had “recovered sufficient evidence to eliminate all known potential accidental causes and determine the fire was intentionally set.”

As the investigation progressed, officials released video of two people who were seen near the building around the time the fire broke out. The people were considered “people of interest” in the probe. It’s unclear if Abdulwali was one of the people in the video.

Last month, LAFD Battalion Chief Steve Ruda told members of an Echo Park neighborhood council that investigators had video of a suspect walking into the complex with cans of fuel, the Los Angeles Times reported. Ruda said the suspect “torched the building up from the freeway side and then escaped.”

LAFD officials declined to comment on the Ruda’s reported remarks.

“This is another reminder that the LAFD has zero tolerance for the crime of arson,” LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas said.

Officials said that due to the extent of damage caused by the fire, Abdulwali could face life in prison if convicted.

No information was released about potential motive for the fire, but investigators said they collected “electronic and physical evidence connecting Abdulwali to the crime.”

“Our agencies spent thousands of hours processing the scene, running down leads, interviewing potential witnesses and performing numerous other investigative activities leading to Abdulwali’s arrest,” said Carlos A. Canino, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field office. “This investigation was a team effort from start to finish, which makes its resolution all the more gratifying.”

City News Service

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