Police arrest man carrying gasoline into St Patrick's Cathedral in New York

Pedestrians walk past St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Thursday, April 18, 2019.
Pedestrians walk past St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on Thursday, April 18, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP) - A man was arrested after entering St Patrick's Cathedral in New York carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters, police said, just days after a fire badly damaged the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.

New York Police Department (NYPD) deputy commissioner John Miller said the arrested man claimed he was taking a shortcut through the cathedral on Wednesday night after his car ran out of fuel, but his answers were "inconsistent and evasive."

"We don't know what his mindset was, what his motive was," Miller told a press conference on the steps of the cathedral, a neo-Gothic structure in the heart of Manhattan.

The man was confronted by a cathedral security officer and was told he could not go inside carrying those items, according to the police.

"At that point, some gasoline apparently spills out onto the floor as he's turned around," Miller said.

After an alarm was raised, officers from the NYPD's counter-terrorism bureau caught up to the man and arrested him after questioning.

"His basic story was he was cutting through the cathedral... that his car had run out of gas," Miller said.

"We took a look at the vehicle. It was not out of gas and at that point he was taken into custody."

Miller said the 37-year-old suspect was "known to police," and said he would appear before a judge to be charged with attempted arson, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

A resident of New Jersey, the man taught philosophy at Lehman College in New York.

According to media reports, he was found to have a one-way ticket to Rome scheduled for Thursday (April 18).

Construction first started on St Patrick's Cathedral in the mid-1880s and was completed in 1878, although extensions have been added over the years and a major restoration was completed in 2015.