A series of fires in New York City, including one at an Islamic community center on Long Island, has many in the Muslim community calling out for awareness of increased anti-Islamic bias crimes in the city and across the nation.
Police say a man they arrested Tuesday confessed to an attempted firebombing at a home in Elmont, N.Y., and four similar incidents in nearby Queens, two of which were at houses of worship. NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the man made self-implicating statements, and said he had personal grievances with each place that was targeted, the Associated Press reported. What those grievances were remained unclear.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said earlier a man who fit the description of a person caught on a security camera during one of the attacks was arrested. No injuries resulted from the attacks. The man is set to be charged with arson, but an investigation into the attempts as bias crimes is ongoing.
In the Elmont incident, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a house, breaking its living room window, but it did not ignite. The homeowner, Kissinger Rai, told Newsday that he knew his home had been targeted.
“When I walked outside the patio, that’s when I smelled the gasoline, and I realized this was not an accident,” said Rai, who told police he saw a Honda speed away after the incident. Although, there was no apparent religious link to the Elmont home, the other fires happened at places between three and five miles away, between 8 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. Sunday, police said. At the home and at least three of the other incidents, the firebombs were made from Starbucks Frappuccino bottles.
One Molotov cocktail was thrown at a small grocery store, another at a private home which actually caught fire, and at another house which was used for Hindu worship, and another at the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building, which had about 80 people gathered inside for a dinner.
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All of the incidents have alarmed officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose leaders want political and religious leaders to condemn these and other attacks across the nation.
“Any time you have a house of worship, whether it’s a mosque or a Hindu temple targeted, you’ve got to be concerned,” Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the civil rights advocacy group, told TIME. “Usually you’ll have something like graffiti or a smashed window, but when you have a firebombing you have to be concerned.”
Hooper said that websites like BareNakedIslam, while not necessarily directly related to the New York incidents, do actually promote violence against Muslims.
“It’s one of the most violent anti-Muslim hate sites on the Internet,” he says. “They suggest desecrating mosques in New York City, and even suggest that the Russian mafia should be contacted to take care of it.” WordPress, which hosts the site, took it down last week.
Hooper says he doesn’t believe the Queens and Long Island incidents are related to the once-controversial Park51 Islamic center in Manhattan, “but you have rising anti-Muslim sentiment and when you have that, anything can happen.”