Man arrested carrying gasoline into St Patrick's Cathedral in New York: police
St Patrick's Cathedral AFP

The suspect is known to police who are currently looking into his background

A man was arrested Wednesday night after entering St Patrick's Cathedral in New York carrying two cans of gasoline, lighter fluid and butane lighters, police said, just days after a fire badly damaged the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Police said the man pulled up to the 19th century Roman Catholic cathedral on 5th Avenue in a minivan and walked around the area before returning to his vehicle and bringing the inflammatory materials into the church.

After an alarm was raised, officers from the NYPD's counter-terrorism bureau caught up to the man and arrested him after questioning.

Some gasoline was spilled on the floor of the cathedral as the man was confronted by police, but no fire was ignited at any point during the incident.

New York Police Department (NYPD) deputy commissioner John Miller said the man claimed he was taking a shortcut through the cathedral after his car ran out of fuel, but his answers were "inconsistent and evasive."

"We took a look at the vehicle. It was not out of gas and at that point he was taken into custody," Miller told a press conference on the steps of the cathedral, a neo-Gothic structure in the heart of Manhattan.

Investigators said the man, whose identity has not been made public, was known to police.

"We don't know what his mindset was, what his motive was," Miller said.

No charges have yet been confirmed.

Construction first started on St Patrick's Cathedral in the mid-1880s and was completed in 1878, although extensions have been added over the years and a major restoration was completed in 2015.

The incident came just days after a fire ripped through the iconic Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, gutting the 850-year-old gothic masterpiece.

Investigators have begun their probe into the cause of the blaze. It is suspected that renovations that had been underway at the cathedral accidentally triggered the inferno.