Surveillance footage taken inside Neighbours.
  • Via SPD
  • Surveillance footage taken inside Neighbours.

Seattle police confirmed in a voice mail today that the person of interest in the New Year's Eve arson case—in which a person allegedly poured gasoline on the stairs of a crowded gay nightclub and then lit it ablaze—is Musab Mohamed Masmari.

The police estimated that some 750 people were inside Neighbours nightclub at the time of the arson attack. Several photos were posted on the SPD Blotter of a man carrying an object which may have been the gas can that was found later at the scene. The SPD chose not to release surveillance video, but Neighbours released security camera footage to local TV stations last weekend. They show what appears to be a man with receding hair and thick eyebrows walking around the club.

Seattle Municipal Court records show Masmari faced several criminal charges in 2013, including assault, violation of an anti-harassment order, property destruction, and obstructing a police officer. An active case concerns an assault for which Masmari was initially booked into jail in July 2013. A "guilty finding [was] entered" by a jury, according to records from the Seattle Municipal Court, and Masmari appeared in court for sentencing on January 16—three days after SPD posted the photos and more than two weeks after the arson incident. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and allowed to leave temporarily on work-release. He is due to appear in court for his jail sentence on February 18.

Wylie Bush, owner of Joe Bar on north Capitol Hill, says Masmari has been a regular at his business for the last four or five years, and Masmari has frequented several other nearby bars in the area. Bush saw the photos and video footage from inside Neighbours. While he couldn't positively identify Masmari, Bush says, "He looks similar to that guy in the video and he has sporadic bad behavior." He says Masmari was banned from Joe Bar after he heard reports from employees that Masmari had stuck his finger into one patron's food, ate food off yet another customer's plate, and once unzipped his pants in front of Joe Bar in what might have been an attempt to expose himself.

"We had all the signs of him losing his shit over time," Bush says. "It just got progressively worse."

Several people I spoke to today, who asked to remain anonymous, said they had contacted police (or knew people who had contacted police) to say they believed Masmari was the man in the video released by Neighbours and that they were frustrated that police didn't call them back.

"I am disturbed that the police have not responded to the people who have made phone calls to SPD," says Bush.

Earlier today, Sergeant Jim Hansen, who is leading the arson investigation, told me, "We’re not going talk about" the case. "It could impact aspects of our investigation." Asked repeatedly if he could provide any reason why Masmari's name should not be published, either on or off the record, Hansen refused to comment. SPD's media bureau also repeatedly declined to give any reason why Masmari's name should not be published. The Stranger contacted the SPD before publishing this story to ask if there was anything the SPD wanted to add or if there was anything we should consider before we published this story. We also asked why the SPD had not detained or arrested Masmari. We will update this post if the SPD provides any new information.

At this time, it is not clear that Masmari is officially a suspect. He is a person of interest in the case, according to the voicemail we received from SPD. Neither the Stranger nor the SPD are saying that Masmari committed this crime.

Masmari's Facebook page says he is from Benghazi. Several attempts to reach the owner of Neighbours, Mona Elassiouti, via the club's attorney were unsuccessful. Calls and an e-mail to Neighbours general manager were also not returned.