British Dancer Detained in Car Arson

Amid a wave of car arsons that hit the city in recent weeks, a British dancer was detained in southwestern Moscow on suspicion of setting fire to a Mercedes, city police said Thursday.

Police detained Alistair Pani, 38, at around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday after he tried to torch a Mercedes E190 on Ulitsa Admirala Rudneva on the city's southwestern outskirts, said Marina Molokova, spokeswoman for the city police's southwestern district branch.

With the help of a flammable liquid, Pani tried to set fire to the car's right front tire at around 4:15 p.m. Wednesday, prompting witnesses to report a small blaze to police, Molokova said. A street-sweeper extinguished the small fire, and Pani was detained without incident 15 minutes later at the near by Ulitsa Gorchakova metro station, she said.

Only the car's tire was damaged, Molokova said.

Pani told police that he is dancer in local nightclubs and has been renting an apartment in the neighborhood since February, Molokova said.

One elderly woman who lives in an apartment building near the scene of the purported crime said she witnessed Pani's arrest from her window.

"He was a tall, thin man wearing a white cap," the woman, who refused to give her name, said Thursday afternoon. "I saw the neighborhood sheriff get out of his car as he drove by and handcuff him."

The British Embassy confirmed that a British citizen had been detained by police but declined to confirm any details, saying only that the suspect would receive all necessary consular support.

Pani claimed that he was trying to test the flammability of his furniture polish and that he did not expect the tire to catch fire because it had been raining earlier in the day, another spokeswoman at the southwestern district police branch said.

Police have classified the incident as intentional destruction of property, the daily Gazeta newspaper reported on its web site Thursday evening. If charged and convicted, Pani could face up to two years in prison.

The incident happened in the city's Yuzhnoye Butovo district, which has seen the lion's share of a series of car arsons throughout the city in recent weeks.

Authorities registered 55 cases of car arson last month and a total of 180 cases since January, City Police chief Vladimir Pronin said Wednesday at a meeting with citizens who had helped police nab suspects in the arson attacks.

There were a total of 153 car arsons in 2007, Pronin said, Interfax reported.

As of Wednesday, city police had wrapped up investigations in seven car arson attacks this year, and a total of 32 suspects had been detained, Pronin said. Five of those suspects suffer from mental illnesses, while 20 of them are juveniles, Pronin said, Interfax reported.

Police have categorically dismissed the possibility that Pani is connected to any other arson attacks, Gazeta reported.

A spokeswoman at the southwestern district police branch said vigilant citizens who assisted police in Pani's detention would receive monetary rewards.

Alexandra Odynova contributed to this report.