Chabad Jewish Center on High Rock St./ Credit: Needham Observer

A man facing federal charges in connection with a series of fires set nearly five years ago at Needham’s Chabad Jewish Center and two other Jewish-related institutions in the Boston area is in custody.

Alexander Giannakakis, 37, formerly of Quincy, did not enter a plea Monday during a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Boston. He is due back in court Feb. 13.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, Giannakakis was extradited to the U.S. from Stockholm, Sweden, where he recently completed a prison sentence on unrelated charges. He arrived at Logan Airport on Feb. 2. 

The announcement was made jointly by Needham Police Chief John Schlittler, acting U.S. Attorney Joshua S. Levy, the Boston office of the FBI, and the police chiefs of Arlington and Chelsea.

A federal grand jury indicted Giannakakis in February 2022, accusing him of obstructing an investigation into the fires, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The fires — two at a Chabad Center in Arlington, a third at the Chabad Jewish Center on High Rock Street in Needham, and a fourth at a Jewish-affiliated business in Chelsea — occurred over a little more than two weeks in May 2019. 

According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the charges include making false statements in a matter involving domestic terrorism; falsifying, concealing and covering up a material fact in a matter involving domestic terrorism; concealing records in a federal investigation; tampering with documents and objects; and tampering with an official proceeding.  

The Needham fire was set late in the evening of May 19, 2019, according to police reports at the time. It was lit on the outside of the Chabad Center, where Rabbi Mendy Krinsky lives with his family. Krinsky said it was caught right away, with little damage. No one was injured.

“We’re grateful to law enforcement” that Giannakakis is in custody, Krinsky told the Observer. He called the fire “shocking.” 

“We respond with more light, love and goodness,” he said. “That’s what the world needs. An old Jewish saying says, ‘A little light dispels a lot of darkness.’ We hope justice will be served.”

Giannakakis is not accused of setting the fires. The indictment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, says his younger brother was considered the prime suspect at the time of his death in late 2020.  

Sometime after the fires, Giannakakis allegedly brought his brother’s electronic devices and papers to Sweden, where the brother was living, before returning to the U.S. in March 2020. He later went back to Sweden, where he was arrested by Swedish police at the request of the U.S. after the indictment was returned. U.S. authorities sought his extradition to face charges in Boston, but Giannakakis was first tried and convicted in Sweden on unrelated weapons charges. The Swedish government approved his extradition in December 2023.

The charges carry sentences of eight to 20 years in prison and fines of $250,000.

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