King County prosecutors charged Musab Musmari with first-degree arson on Wednesday, accusing him of setting a fire in a stairwell inside a Capitol Hill nightclub on New Year’s Eve that appears to be the latest in a string of bizarre incidents that have landed the 30-year-old in jail five times since May.
Musmari was arrested Saturday as he left a house in Bellevue for the airport to catch a one-way flight to Turkey, according to charging documents. Police obtained a search warrant for his car, and found his luggage in the trunk, packed with “everything … he cares about,” the papers say.
He remains in the King County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail. He is to be arraigned Feb. 19.
Police are continuing their investigation, and forensic testing on potential physical evidence is under way, said Ian Goodhew, the deputy chief of staff to King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg.
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Musmari — who also goes by the surnames Masmari and Al Masmari — booked the flight to Turkey last week, a day after someone asked him about media coverage of the arson at Neighbours, which bills itself as the city’s largest and longest-running gay club, the papers say. He had his Libyan and U.S. passports on him at the time of his arrest, according to the charges.
Musmari was identified as a suspect in the Neighbours arson after several people called in tips to police, who had released grainy surveillance photos to the media in January, according to the charges. The person who asked Musmari about the media coverage also contacted police, then initiated a second conversation about the fire with Musmari, the papers say.
“Masmari observed that, if police had any proof, they would have arrested him by now,” the papers say.
According to the charges, Musmari avoided a security check at Neighbours on New Year’s Eve by entering an adjacent bar called Therapy Lounge; he then passed through an interior door between the bars into the two-floor dance club and was seen on surveillance footage walking around with an object that appeared large enough to contain a one-gallon gas can, charging papers say.
Musmari allegedly fled the club within seconds of flames first appearing on the footage, the papers say. Club patrons and a bartender quickly doused the blaze with a fire extinguisher.
Though no one was hurt, prosecutors said in charging documents that the fire “was manifestly dangerous to human life,” and note that 750 people were inside at the time.
Musmari was born in California, but his family returned to Libya when he was an infant; he returned to the United States permanently in 2009, the papers say.
Between May and August, Seattle police had numerous contacts with Musmari because of his bizarre behavior, charging papers say. At various times, he is alleged to have climbed a tree to cut off its branches; refused to stop painting a railing outside his apartment building; screamed obscenities at people; made lewd comments to a woman; swerved his car at someone; swung a golf club at another; and threw a piece of paper in another person’s face, according to the charges.
In May, Musmari was arrested
after Seattle police found him passed out behind the wheel of his running vehicle, according to Seattle Municipal Court records.
He was also charged with assault for spitting on one of the arresting officers, but a jury acquitted him of both charges in December, the records show.
While the May case was pending, Musmari was arrested in July for assaulting a witness who was cooperating with police in connection with his May arrest, according to court and police records.
The same officer who reported Musmari had spit on him wrote in his report that after both arrests, Musmari let his body go limp, forcing officers to drag him to a patrol car and later, into the precinct.
“While in the East Precinct holding cell, Masmari defecated in his pants, similar to the last time I arrested Masmari,” the officer wrote.
The records say the same officer came up with a ruse when Musmari faked unconsciousness while in the holding cell in July: The officer told him his attorney was outside, and Musmari jumped up, which enabled officers to transport him to jail without incident.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org