New York arson attacks are investigated as hate crimes

New York arson suspectLos Angeles authorities have arrested a suspect in a furious spate of arson fires, but New York police are still searching for a suspect in that city's string of arson attacks.

In a period of about two hours Sunday night, four buildings -- all within a mile of each other in the Jamaica area of Queens -- were attacked with bottle-bombs, according to police. Now a fifth attack in nearby Nassau County is being linked to those firebombings, which are under investigation as possible hate crimes.

The attacks occurred at an Islamic center, a home used for Hindu services, a 24-hour grocery store and two private homes. In three of the five attacks, the Molotov cocktails were made in glass Starbucks bottles, police noted. No one was reported injured, but at least one of the attacks led to significant damage in one of the homes.

The arson outbreak is small compared to the incidents that Los Angeles has experienced in the last week, but New York officials are taking it seriously. New York's Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Monday that he'd be asking the state police to follow up on the attacks; the city's Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg condemned them as an anomaly that "stood in stark contrast to the New York City of today that we've built together."

The mayor also said that police were looking into whether there was any connection to the arson fires that occurred across Los Angeles in recent days.

Bloomberg was scheduled Tuesday morning to visit the Al-Khoe Islamic Center, where two small bottle bombs were hurled while about 100 people were inside worshipping.

"We don't know why," the acting imam Maan Al-Sahlani told the New York Daily News. "This is the first time this has happened at this center. ... We cannot accuse any religion or any party of any people. We do  not know what they believe. Hopefully, they will get them soon."

Police released a sketch of a suspect as well as a video showing a man throwing a flaming bottle at a private home that is used as a Hindu place of worship. (NY1 posted the video.) The bottle hit the front window of the house, then bounced onto the pavement, said Bejai Rai, 77, who was having dinner with his family when the incident occurred.

"It sparked but didn't catch a fire," Rai told the Daily News. "We were lucky."

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-- Geraldine Baum in New York

Photo: The New York Police Department has released a sketch of a suspect wanted in a string of arson attacks. Credit: New York Police Department / Associated Press

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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