Firebomb Attacks on Islamic Center, 3 Other Sites Probed as Bias Crimes

Police say three of the attacks involved Molotov cocktails. No one was injured.

Monday, Jan 2, 2012  |  Updated 6:28 PM EDT
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Police are looking for the man who threw several lit Molotov cocktails at an Islamic center, a deli and two private residences in Queens, causing fire and property damage, on Sunday, January 1. A suspect can be seen in this surveillance video from the fourth attack.

Police are looking for the man who threw several lit Molotov cocktails at an Islamic center, a deli and two private residences in Queens, causing fire and property damage, on Sunday, January 1. A suspect can be seen in this surveillance video from the fourth attack.

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Police on Monday were investigating a series of suspected arson attacks against an Islamic cultural center and three other locations in Queens as bias crimes against Muslims.

No one was injured in the four Sunday evening attacks, though some of the damage may be extensive. Police were asking for the public's help in locating a suspect.

The suspect was described as a black male, about age 25 to 30, 5'8" and 200 lbs. He was last seen wearing a black jacket and baseball cap fleeing in a light-colored four-door sedan. Authorities released a sketch (above) and ask anyone who recognizes him to contact police.

Police said the suspect threw several lit Molotov cocktails in the attacks, though some did not explode.

The first incident happened at 8 p.m. Sunday, when a bottle was thrown at a counter at a bodega. Ten minutes later, a nearby house was damaged after possibly being set on fire; it took 65 firefighters 40 minutes to bring the blaze under control, authorities said.

At 8:44 p.m., the mosque was targeted. About 80 worshipers were inside the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the Shiite mosque, damaging a door, authorities said.

And at 10:14 p.m., two bottles were thrown — but did not explode — at a house police said was used for Hindu worship services.

A fifth incident in Long Island was also being investigated as possibly connected to the Queens attacks, authorities announced Monday.

Police said Monday possible suspects were believed to have fled the scenes of the third and fourth attacks. They were looking at surveillance video obtained from the bodega and the attack on one of the houses.

Later Monday, police released surveillance video from the fourth attack and issued a $10,000 reward for information leading to the person or persons responsible for the crime. Crime Stoppers will also pay up to $2,000 for information that leads to an arrest or indictment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the incidents.

"The four reported attacks on Sunday night go against everything we stand for as New Yorkers and Americans," Cuomo said in a statement. "Attacks such as this have no place in our open and inclusive society."

CAIR called on police and Muslim institutions to step up security measures around mosques.

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the advocacy group, said CAIR recently called on the FBI to investigate threats targeting mosques posted on an anti-Islam blog called "Bare Naked Islam."

One comment on the site read: "Throw 10 Molotov cocktails into these mosques and burn them down," according to Hooper. By Monday, the comment appeared to have been taken down by blog operator WordPress.com.

CAIR noted that in the past year, numerous mosques or mosque construction sites around the country have been targeted by arson, vandalism or threats.

Police are asking anyone with information regarding the attacks to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website or by texting their tips to 274637 (CRIMES) then enter TIP577.

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