'Voices made me set consulate on fire', says Chinese suspect who confessed to arson attack

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 January, 2014, 8:38am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 January, 2014, 4:43am

A Chinese man arrested in connection with the arson attack on the Chinese consulate in San Francisco started the fire because of "voices he had been hearing", according to the FBI.

Authorities identified the suspect on Monday as Yan Feng, a 39-year-old Chinese native who has permanent residency in the United States.

US prosecutors have charged him with arson and damaging the property of a foreign government, after officials decided not to treat the incident as a terrorist act. If convicted, he faces up to 13 years in prison.

Feng called a police station in Daly city, south of San Francisco, to surrender himself on Friday, according to a court affidavit by a federal agent.

With the help of a Putonghua-speaking interpreter, Feng said he was the person responsible for the fire on New Year's Day that had seriously damaged the building's main entrance.

Feng said he targeted the consulate "because all the voices he had been hearing were in Chinese and the Chinese consulate had to have been involved".

He drove to the consulate in a green minivan, then left for a nearby filling station to fill three containers with petrol before returning to the compound, according to the affidavit.

He tried but failed to use his passport to ignite the fuel he had poured on the doorway and steps. Instead, he used a lighter to ignite one of the three containers.

Footage from a surveillance camera mounted on a building across the street showed a minivan pulling over to the pavement in front of the consulate moments before the fire broke out just before 9.30pm.

Firefighters quickly put out the flames and no injuries were reported. The mission was open for business the next day with an increased police presence.

In a statement released yesterday, the mission called on the US to prosecute the arsonist and "prevent similar incidents".

"We will follow up closely with the US side on the trial," the statement said. "We urge the US side to learn lessons from this incident, take effective measures to ensure the safety, security and dignity of Chinese diplomatic and consulate missions and staff in the US."

Restoration work has begun. Officials said the US government has pledged to pay for repairs.

A similar arson attack occurred prior to the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Flammable liquid was poured on a metal door at the consulate amid controversy over Beijing's crackdown against protesters in Tibet.

The FBI has said the two attacks were not linked.