By ZEINAB NAJM
HEIGHTS— Nicholas Diedo, 35, of Dearborn Heights was federally charged with arson after he allegedly set fire to the 315 North Strip Mall in Inkster Feb. 3. If convicted, he could face 20 years in federal prison.
Inkster police believe Diedo was the same man seen on security video at the strip mall last month placing six one-gallon jugs filled with a yellow liquid. He is then seen attempting to break a window by throwing bricks before pulling out a flare from his sock to ignite the liquid, the fire from which damaged five businesses.
Agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were able to identify Diedo following an investigation, review of the security video and tip from a reliable source.
The ATF executed search warrants at Diedo’s house March 4, finding evidence in connection with the 2019 fire.
The items found also link Diedo to a fire at the same strip mall on April 20, 2018. The security footage from that fire also shows a person using an orange laundry detergent bottle to pour accelerant and a pulling a flare out of a bag to start a fire. Damage was limited to the front entry after Diedo failed to climb onto the building’s roof using a green rope with a hook-type device.
The complaint filed March 4 in the U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Michigan named the items found at Diedo’s house. It also stated Diedo targeted people of Middle Eastern decent.
Some of the items found were: a brick tied to a rope, Gatorade bottles filled with liquid that smelled like gasoline in the garage, a green rope with a hook tied to the end found under his bed, a Molotov cocktail, accelerant on the wooden deck, clear plastic jugs, a black bag with white straps, a black hooded sweatshirt with thick white strings — all of which were seen in both security videos.
In addition to the 2018 and 2019 arson cases, Diedo has a history of arson allegations involving Arab Americans from April 5 and April 22. The complaint said five vehicles parked within three-quarters of a mile from Diedo’s house were intentionally set on fire between 2:40 and 5:22 a.m.
Diedo is also suspected of setting a 2018 BMW belonging to his Middle Eastern neighbor on fire after investigators found a June 1, 2018, police report. The report said officers and firefighters responded to the scene where they found a melted bottle on top of the vehicle.
Police found Diedo standing in his backyard, which was adjacent to the victim’s backyard and questioned him with a suspicion of arson. Diedo told officers that he was just out at 3 a.m. and didn’t sleep well, but police eventually arrested him when they smelled gas and lighter fluid emitting from him.
In March 2018, Diedo was arrested on suspicion of stealing several dealer license plates off vehicles and then charged in May 2018 with the felony of forgery.
According to the complaint, Diedo got into a fight with his neighbor and that the altercation was recored on a cell phone camera. The neighbor then installed security cameras because he felt targeted by Diedo, who as a result was arrested for assault and battery.
ATF Special Agent Andrea Rossman wrote in the complaint that the video of the altercation shows Diedo walking distinctively with long strides, swinging his arms backward and leaning back while popping out his chest. The mannerisms in the video provided were similar to the person seen in the Inkster arson security videos, Rossman added.
An attorney for Diedo was not named or listed at the time of publication, and Diedo had not yet been arrested, but Inkster Police Lt. Jeffery Smith told WJBK Channel 2 that they did knew where he was.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])