US charges suspect over Chinese consulate arson attack

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - US investigators have arrested a Chinese-born man over an arson attack on China's consulate in San Francisco which triggered strong protest from Beijing, officials and reports said on Monday.

Yan Feng, 39, who lives south of the city, surrendered to police on Friday and has been charged with criminal offences including causing damage to a diplomatic mission, said the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

According to an affidavit, he "detonated incendiary or explosive devices in the vicinity of the front entrance of the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco on Jan 1, causing significant property damage," said an FBI statement.

The Chinese native, who is a permanent US resident, told federal agents that he was driven not by politics but by "voices he had been hearing", according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

He called police two days after the New Year's Day blaze, which seriously damaged the consulate's entrance, and said via a Mandarin-language interpreter that he had "made the fire", it said.

The attack, which came on the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing, was condemned by the consulate as a "despicable act" and is under police investigation.

Mr David J. Johnson, head of the FBI's San Francisco office, said "we're looking at it, and we have looked at this, purely as a criminal matter," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The consulate was targeted in a similar arson attack in March 2008, according to a US media report.

A Chinese state-run newspaper last week accused the US of a "security failure" and reproached the American government for failing to provide protection for Chinese diplomatic personnel.

The Global Times, which is close to China's ruling Communist Party, called for "severe punishment" of the offenders.

The US State Department said shortly after the attack came to light that it was "deeply concerned" by the incident, and vowed to help police and the FBI to find the perpetrators.

The arrested suspect was charged with maliciously damaging or attempting to damage a diplomatic building by fire or explosive, the FBI said, noting that "a criminal complaint contains only allegations against an individual.

"As with all defendants, Feng must be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty," it said.

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