Man Who Lit Muslim Tourist on Fire on Fifth Avenue Linked to 2 Other Cases, Police Say

Law enforcement sources say a white woman and a Latina were also set on fire the same day in the area, which they say may signify a more random series of attacks

What to Know

  • The woman was wearing traditional Muslim garb while she was window-shopping on Fifth Avenue Saturday
  • She told police she suddenly felt heat on her arm and saw her blouse was on fire; she doused the flames and wasn't hurt
  • Police say two other women were attacked in the same vicinity in the same general time frame that day

A stranger took out a lighter and set a 35-year-old tourist from Scotland on fire on Fifth Avenue over the weekend because she was Muslim, police confirmed Wednesday, but authorities are investigating two similar attacks in the area that day that law enforcement sources say may run counter to the bias theory.

The woman had been wearing traditional Muslim garb while window-shopping near East 54th Street on the iconic Manhattan street Saturday night, and police had been looking into whether she was attacked because of her religious attire. Authorities said Wednesday their investigation revealed it was a hate crime.

Over an hour later, he approached two women walking side by side down the stairs into the subway at Bryant Park and set the lighter near their arms, police said. Law enforcement sources say the other two victims are white and Latina, calling into question whether any of the attacks were bias-related.

The development comes a day after police released new video showing the man they believe set the woman on fire. The woman told authorities she was walking on Fifth Avenue when she suddenly felt heat on her arm and noticed her blouse was on fire. She noticed a man standing next to her with a lighter in his hand, according to police. He ran away without having said a word. 

The victim was able to douse the flames quickly and she wasn't hurt; no injuries were reported in the other two cases. The Scottish tourist declined to speak publicly but told NBC 4 New York she was doing OK and that her only focus and concern is that her attacker is caught and prosecuted. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the attack on the tourist Tuesday, saying it was "the latest in a series of attacks on Muslims in that state and nationwide in recent days and months." It's offering $1,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the suspect. 

The tourist's attack was the second of the three that night, police say. In the first, on Fifth Avenue near 57th Street, the suspect walked up behind the woman and ignited a lighter next to her leg. Later that night, a suspect matching the description of the man in the earlier attacks put a flame near the arms of two women walking down the stairs of the Bryant Park train station. 

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