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10 December 2023

NY man confesses to mosque firebombing

By Reuters

A New York City man faces arson and bias charges after confessing on Tuesday to a series of Molotov cocktail attacks that hit a mosque and a Hindu place of worship and unsettled civic leaders concerned the actions might portend violent religious bigotry.

The suspect, who has not been identified by name, is a 40-year-old unemployed tow-truck driver who appeared to have been motivated by personal grudges, said a law enforcement familiar with the investigation who was speaking on condition of anonymity.

The suspect, who is originally from Guyana and lives in the Jamaica section of Queens where four of the attacks took place, also made "broadly anti-Muslim statements" during questioning, the official said.

He chose the mosque after being refused access to the facility's bathroom, and he mistook one of the private residences as the home of a "crack dealer" with whom he had a dispute, the official said.

Another of the targets was a private residence where Hindu services were held, but that may have been a coincidence. The suspect had a years-old dispute with someone who may not live there anymore, the official said.

Police earlier had announced a "person of interest" in the investigation was being questioned, then later said he had been arrested upon confessing to the firebomb attacks.

"The individual is implicating himself in each of the five firebombing cases, citing personal grievances with each location," said police spokesman Paul Browne.

The arson attacks drew condemnation from religious and civic leaders of various backgrounds who joined New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly for a news conference before the confession was reported.

"Fear mongering about Islam and other American minorities have ripped this country apart ... We are all affected when this hate explodes," said Cyrus McGoldrick of the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

One of the firebombs hit the mosque entrance at the Imam al-Khoei Foundation, a Shiite organization in the New York City borough of Queens while some 75 to 80 people were inside.

No injuries were reported but one of the private homes suffered severe fire damage.

"When everyone else was enjoying their New Year's Day, this villain comes in and wants to make life miserable for us," said Muhsin Alidina, a program coordinator at the Islamic center who was in the mosque at the time of the attack.

"Thank goodness it was also raining, so presumably it took away some of the force," Alidina said.

The suspect's grievances with the convenience store may have started on Dec. 27 when a clerk confronted a man thought to have being trying to steal a Starbucks Frappuccino, police said.

"When they were pushing him out of the store, he said words to the effect of, 'We're going to get even. We're going to get back at you,'" Kelly said before the confession was reported.

Starbucks Frappuccino bottles were used in at least four of the five Molotov attacks, police said.