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‘Incel’ teen held without bail on federal bomb threat charge

April 14, 2021 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) — A teenager who prosecutors say touts himself as subscribing to an online subculture that has been linked to violent attacks was arrested Wednesday on a bomb threat charge.

Nineteen-year-old Malik Sanchez, known online as “Smooth Sanchez,” was arrested on a charge of conveying false and misleading information and hoaxes after he allegedly made a hoax threat in February to detonate a bomb at a restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood. He was ordered held without bail.

In a criminal complaint in Manhattan federal court, investigators said Sanchez on Feb. 13 posted a video online showing him approaching two women seated outside the restaurant and telling them that a bomb would go off in two minutes.

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“I take you with me and I kill all you,” the criminal complaint quoted him as saying loudly. “I kill all you right now.”

The women gathered their belongings and went into the restaurant, four other diners ran away and at least one person summoned law enforcement via 911, the complaint said. Sanchez had left by the time authorities arrived.

In March, the complaint said, Sanchez was arrested on state charges after he approached multiple women at an outdoor seating area in Manhattan and made hand gestures mimicking pointing a gun. When several individuals tried to get him to stop, he pepper sprayed one of them in the face, it said.

Prosecutors said Sanchez self-identifies as an “involuntary celibate” or “incel,” a mostly online group of individuals, primarily men, who believe society unjustly denies them sexual or romantic attention. The online subculture has been linked to attacks in California, Florida and Canada.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Ona T. Wang in Manhattan federal court rejected a defense lawyer’s claim that his client was not an actual threat because he was doing outrageous things to post online and participants in videos knew they were part of “scripted” content.

Wang noted that Sanchez had at least four restraining orders against him, which she said showed that not everyone viewed his actions as non-threatening. She said it appeared his “conduct may be escalating.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kaylan Lasky had argued that no bail be granted, saying Sanchez had recently been arrested for stunts that included climbing the Queensboro Bridge and the confrontation that led to him spraying Mace.

Defense attorney Clay Kaminsky, though, told the judge that Sanchez “is seeking attention” rather than posing a true threat.

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He cited his client’s online videos, saying they can be hours long “and people are watching them ... commenting and egging him on.”

“He’s an attention-seeking 19-year-old and he can be helped,” Kaminsky said.

In a release, Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said Sanchez had “frightened innocent victims, sowed chaos, and diverted precious law enforcement resources.”

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of New York’s FBI office, said: “Whether real or perceived, a threat of violence is a serious action with real-life consequences.”

New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the alleged hoax bomb threat “disrupted not only the safety and well-being of several innocent restaurant patrons but the fabric of society.”