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Three charged in arson attack on Montreal funeral home owned by Rizzutos

A man enters a funeral home owned by the Rizzuto family that was firebombed overnight Thursday, January 6, 2011 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press

Three men have been charged with arson after a Montreal funeral home owned by the notorious Rizzuto clan was struck in an early-morning firebombing.

Julien Bourassa-Richer, 26, Alexandre Toulay, 27, and Sounthone Charensouk, 30, were detained on Thursday until a bail hearing on Monday. They did not immediately enter pleas.

However, Serge Lamontagne, the lawyer for Bourassa-Richer, said his client would plead not guilty because the burden of proof is on the Crown.

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The charges against the three include arson, arson causing damage to property, possession of an incendiary material and conspiracy.

Police said the Loreto funeral home in the east-end district of Saint-Leonard was attacked just before 1 a.m. ET on Thursday.

Several visitations have been held at the facility for members of the Rizzuto clan. The most recent was for Mafia don Nicolo Rizzuto, 86, who was shot and killed in his Montreal home on Nov. 10.

The accused, who were handcuffed, generally showed little emotion, except for Toulay, who gestured to someone in the courtroom and blew a kiss as he was led back to cells.

Crown prosecutor Pascal Dostaler said the Crown opposed bail because of the seriousness of the crimes.

"The evidence is pretty strong and those individuals have prior convictions," he said.

He said police who stopped the trio in Bourassa-Richer's car shortly after the firebombing detected a strong smell of gasoline on them.

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Dostaler wouldn't confirm any links between the attack on the funeral home and other crimes, including the firebombings of a number of cafes.

"We cannot link those events together but we cannot exclude all the possibilities," he said. "The investigation continues just to know if those individuals are linked to any criminal organization."

Police were alerted by a witness who saw two men run from the building and join a third man waiting in a car.

Police intercepted the vehicle and all three men were arrested and taken in for questioning.

Authorities also said there was no immediate indication of any injuries in the attack, and they were still trying to determine what type of device was used.

Firefighters arrived quickly on the scene and were able to contain the fire before serious damage was done to the building.

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The Rizzuto crime family came to prominence with a violent coup against its Calabrian rivals in the 1970s, but has lately been hobbled in an underworld power struggle that has killed several of its members, including patriarch Nicolo Rizzuto.

The family was once one of the most powerful Mafia families in the world, with tentacles reaching into businesses considered legitimate, including bars, restaurants and construction companies.

The clan was brought to its knees in a massive 2006 police dragnet where scores of mobsters were arrested.

The family and its associates have since been targeted in a series of slayings that crime analysts consider an attempt to end its hold on power.

Vito Rizzuto, the reputed boss of the family, remains in a U.S. jail, and the slaying of Nicolo Rizzuto drove an unmistakable nail into the coffin of the once-formidable criminal organization.

The large stone funeral home attacked on Thursday is the highest-profile target to date in a rash of firebombings against Montreal businesses that began over a year ago.

Police have said the attacks, which started with a spate of coffee-shop bombings, are a clear sign of an underworld power struggle.

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