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Suspect arrested after fires set at two more businesses

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A suspect is in FBI custody after several fires were set and “suspicious devices” were left at five major chain stores and a business over the past two days in central Albuquerque.

“We believe that our community is now safe from any type of action like this again,” Police Chief Gorden Eden said during a Saturday news conference.

Early Friday, “suspicious devices” were left at three Starbucks coffee shops in Nob Hill and a nearby neighborhood. And 24 hours later, an Old Navy clothing store and a Barnes & Noble bookstore were set on fire and the bomb squad unit was sent to a third business.

Backed by about a dozen uniformed officers, Mayor Richard Berry and Chief Eden addressed the media in front of a broken window at the Old Navy on Saturday afternoon.

“It has been a difficult 48 hours in Albuquerque,” Berry said. “We have had multiple fires around the city that have attacked multiple businesses.”

Although the suspect has not been formally charged, Eden said authorities aren’t looking for any other suspects in the case.

He said the FBI had asked him not to release any information about the case or the suspect.

Between 1 and 2 a.m. Saturday, firefighters were called to Barnes & Noble at Coronado Center in Uptown and the Old Navy on Cutler near Washington NE, where they found “smoke and flames” coming from both businesses, according to a spokeswoman for the Albuquerque Fire Department. Both buildings were empty at the time, and no one was injured.

AFD spokeswoman Diane Burns said in both cases firefighters were able to extinguish the fire but the stores suffered from extensive smoke and water damage and will not be able to reopen for some time.

Jennifer Poppers, a spokeswoman for Gap Inc., which owns Old Navy, said company officials are deeply saddened by the incident and thankful that no one was hurt. She said they are cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation. “In the meantime, we are focused on supporting our employees,” Poppers said.

A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman said company officials are not commenting because the case is still under investigation. “We’re very grateful that no one was hurt,” said Mary Ellen Keating, the senior vice president of communications.

Two stores beside Old Navy also had some smoke damage and were closed Saturday, Burns said. Other stores in Coronado Center were not affected.

The bomb squad, meanwhile, was seen investigating at a paper-shredding business at Broadway and Kinley NE a couple hours later, but authorities did not provide any information about that incident.

Friday and Saturday’s unsettling activity comes days after two other high-profile incidents.

On Wednesday, a Nob Hill luxury condo complex still under construction was lost in a fire, and several small fires were set at an anti-abortion ministry nearby. It is unclear whether these cases are related, and Eden said he could not comment on which incidents the suspect is believed to be tied to.

“These are very unique types of crimes, and a lot of that has to do with the evidence that was being collected and has not been processed,” he said.

Suspicious car found

The break in the case came shortly after 1 a.m. Saturday when an undercover detective on holiday patrol in the area saw a suspicious silver car near the Old Navy store, Eden said.

Police set up a perimeter and took the suspect into custody near Menaul and Carlisle NE. They then turned the suspect over to federal custody.

Eden said officers are working on the complex case with several other agencies besides the FBI, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and New Mexico State Police.

“We have multiple crime scenes all over the city,” Eden said. “It’s really going to take all the efforts of so many people to try to bring this case to successful prosecution.”

Berry said he has talked with the director of the city’s Planning Department about ways to help the businesses rebuild, and they are working with the stores to expedite permits and plans as they enter the holiday shopping season.

“Some of these businesses have been damaged to the point where they won’t be able to get back in business for the holidays,” Berry said. “We want to make sure we have everything from the city standpoint to get them back up as quickly as possible.”