A 37-year-old man from New Jersey, carrying two cans of gasoline, was arrested Wednesday night after entering St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, police said.
The man entered the cathedral shortly before 8 pm but was turned back by a church security officer, according to John Miller, deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism of the police department. When the man came out, gasoline spread on the floor.
The security officer then notified two police officers outside the cathedral, who caught up with him and began to question him. While he was cooperative, his answers were inconsistent and evasive, Miller said at a press conference.
"His basic story was that he was cutting across the cathedral to get to Madison Avenue, as his car was running out of gas," Miller said. "We examined the vehicle. He was not running out of gas and at that time he was stopped. "
The man was also carrying two bottles of lighter fluid and two elongated butane lighters, Miller said. The man was not injured and the church was not damaged.
"The individual was arrested while he was trying to enter the cathedral," said the New York Archdiocese in a statement. The man, he continued, "was handed over to the police. Nothing happened inside the cathedral.
No charges were immediately brought against the man, whose police did not reveal the name. "He's known to the police," Miller said without giving further details.
The episode has attracted a strong police presence. A dozen officers gathered at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 50th Street in Midtown, while another officer was directing traffic to the corner. Another half dozen officers stood in front of the church entrance.
The meeting took place two days after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame Cathedral, one of the most famous monuments of this city. The investigators are still looking into the specific cause of this fire, although it is supposed to be accidental.
St. Patrick's Cathedral can accommodate about 2,200 people and opened in May 1879.