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Arson Case Briefs

provided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
for more information on this Brief, contact:
ATF, Arson and Explosive Programs Division - (202) 927-7930


Kabob House Restaurant
Fargo, North Dakota
October 23, 1995


A. IN: 33410-96-0008 V

B. CASE AGENT: John Keating

C. FIELD DIVISION/OFFICE: Kansas City/Fargo

D. PHONE: 701-239-5176

E. PROSECUTOR:

Alan S. Dohrmann
Assistant Cass County State's Attorney
Fargo, North Dakota

F. SYNOPSIS:

On October 23, 1995, an arson fire occurred at the Kabob House Restaurant, 3051 25th Street Southwest, Fargo, North Dakota.

Prior to the fire, the defendant, Zhaleh Sarabakhsh, a native of Iran and co-owner of the restaurant, claimed that during the previous few months she had received various threats and "hate mail/paraphernalia" indicating "hate crimes" against her and her family. These alleged hate crimes consisted of messages stating that they were going to kill her son and burn the rest of the family. She also received a small doll with a swastika drawn on its midsection and yarn tied around its neck in a noose-like fashion. In addition, swastikas were drawn on the restaurant doors.

G. CHARGES:

North Dakota Century Code

Section 12.1-21-02, Arson
Section 12.1-21-02, Endangering by Fire or Explosion
Section 12.1-11-03, False Report to Law Enforcement

H. EVIDENCE:

1. On October 23, 1995, at approximately 8:40 p.m., a fire occurred at the Kabob House Restaurant. At the time of the fire, Sarabakhsh was found by the front door of the restaurant with her wrists and ankles bound with black tape, and her mouth was gagged with tape. Additionally, a rope tied in a noose had been placed around her neck, and a large "X" had been cut in her abdomen.

2. A subsequent crime scene search revealed the presence of four 1-gallon plastic containers containing flammable liquid marked "Splash" windshield washer fluid; plastic jugs; playtex gloves; and "Ruffies" garbage bags.

3. During a preliminary interview, Sarabakhsh, who had been taken to a local hospital for treatment, stated that just prior to the fire two or three individuals had entered her restaurant, come up behind her, and choked her. Shortly thereafter, she had regained consciousness and found that she had been bound and gagged. Sarabakhsh stated that she had been able to crawl out to the front door, thus escaping the fire.

4. On October 26, investigators canvassed area Target stores, the exclusive dealer for Splash windshield fluid and Manko plastic tape in the Fargo/Moorhead area. This canvass, along with an examination of the transaction tapes, revealed that on October 22, 1995, at 12:55 p.m., a customer had purchased 5 gallons of Splash windshield washer fluid; two rolls of Manko plastic tape; one pair of playtex gloves; one box of Ruffies plastic garbage bags; and a funnel.

5. On October 27, investigators interviewed a witness who gave a tentative description of Sarabakhsh as the individual who had made the purchase.

6. On November 2, Sarabakhsh was reinterviewed and subsequently admitted to purchasing the items, setting the fire, cutting herself with a knife to make the arson appear to be a hate crime, and sending the threatening letters to the restaurant.

7. On November 2, a State search warrant was executed at Atlas Company Storage Facility, where Sarabakhsh stored personal belongings. During the search, a word processor and large brown mailing envelopes (identical to the ones used in the previous mailings of hate mail) were retained as evidence.

I. LEGAL ISSUES AND PROBLEMS: None.

J. VERDICT AND SENTENCING:

On June 7, 1996, after several psychiatric evaluations, Sarabakhsh was found to be suffering from psychotic depression and not criminally responsible for these crimes due to her mental condition. However, the Circuit Judge ruled that Sarabakhsh presented a substantial risk of harm to others and ordered that she be committed to the North Dakota State Hospital for a period not to exceed 2 years.

 
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