By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A 56-year-old man has been arrested on arson charges in connection with a massive fire that gutted a multi-story apartment complex under construction in downtown Los Angeles and damaged three nearby buildings, police said on Wednesday.
Dawud Abdulwali was taken into custody on Tuesday and booked on arson charges, Officer Liliana Preciado of the Los Angeles Police Department said.
Abdulwali, 56, was being held on more than $1 million bail pending an initial court appearance scheduled for Thursday morning.
"Crime will not be tolerated in Los Angeles and our first mission is public safety," Mayor Eric Garcetti said at an evening press conference. "We will arrest you and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.
Police declined to say what evidence linked Abdulwali to the Dec. 8 blaze, which broke out in the early morning hours and took some 250 firefighters to extinguish and caused an estimated $30 million in damage to the building.
The Los Angeles Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that he had been a suspect for months in the case before it was cracked by a multi-agency task force.
The paper has previously reported that a surveillance tape captured a suspect parking a car on the nearby 110 Freeway before walking into the building with what appeared to be cans of fuel.
The site that burned - two stories of poured concrete beneath five floors of wood framing - occupied an entire city block near the junction of two major traffic arteries - the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.
Much of the structure, wrapped in scaffolding, collapsed in the flames, producing heat so intense that it ignited three floors of a neighboring 16-story high-rise building, melting telephones, computers and office cubicle partitions.
The radiant heat also blew out windows from two other nearby office buildings. One of them, the Department of Water and Power headquarters two blocks away, rained shards of glass on firefighters working below to cool the structures with water.
The building under construction was to become the latest of several faux-Italian-style luxury apartment complexes erected by developer G.H. Palmer Associates in downtown Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler and Eric Walsh)