18 Apr 2019

New York police arrest man entering St Patrick's Cathedral with petrol cans

11:08 pm on 18 April 2019

Just days after flames ravaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a man was arrested Wednesday night (local time) after entering St Patrick's Cathedral carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters, police say.

St Patrick's Cathedral New York

St Patrick's Cathedral in New York was built in 1878. Photo: AFP

NYPD deputy commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said the unidentified 37-year-old man had pulled up in a minivan outside the landmark cathedral on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and walked around the area.

He then returned to his vehicle at 7.55pm and retrieved the gasoline and lighter fluid,

"As he enters the cathedral he's confronted by a cathedral security officer who asks him where he's going and informs him he can't proceed into the cathedral carrying these things," said Mr Miller.

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

Security then notified officers from the counterterrorism bureau who were standing outside, Mr Miller said.

The officers caught up to the man and arrested him after he was questioned.

"His basic story was he was cutting through the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue. That his car had run out of gas," Mr Miller said.

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

"It's hard to say exactly what his intentions were, but I think the totality of circumstances of an individual walking into an iconic location like St Patrick's Cathedral carrying over four gallons of gasoline, two bottles of lighter fluid and lighters is something that we would have great concern over," Mr Miller said.

"His story is not consistent."

Mr Miller said the suspect was known to police, who were currently looking into his background.

St Patrick's Cathedral was built in 1878 and has installed a sprinkler-like system during recent renovations. Its wooden roof is also coated with fire retardant.

- AP

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs