NEW YORK (AP) — A man hurled crude firebombs at an Islamic cultural center in part because he wasn’t allowed to use its bathrooms and targeted four other New York-area sites on New Year’s Day because of personal grievances, a law enforcement official said Tuesday.
The 40-year-old man, of Guyanese descent, was taken into custody Tuesday after he was tracked through a stolen car with Virginia license plates believed to be at the scene of at least two of the attacks Sunday evening on a convenience store, three homes and the cultural center, police said.
The man, whose name hadn’t been disclosed, made statements implicating himself in the attacks and had personal problems with each location, New York Police Department chief spokesman Paul Browne said. Two of the targets were homes in Queens, and one was a relative’s home in neighboring Nassau County.
The man was facing arson-related charges, and it was unclear Tuesday whether the attacks were considered hate crimes, which could bring extra penalties. He has prior arrests for drugs, passing bad checks and weapons possession.
The law enforcement official, speaking to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the case was still being investigated, said the man made broad anti-Muslim statements and could be charged with a hate crime in the Islamic center attack.
Authorities believe the man was kicked out of the convenience store on Dec. 27 for trying to steal a glass Starbucks Frappuccino bottle and milk. Four of the five crude firebombs thrown at the various locations were made from glass Starbucks bottles, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier Tuesday. The fifth likely was made from a beer bottle.
Witnesses reported the man made threats as he was escorted out, Kelly said.
“When they were pushing him out of the store, he said words to the effect that, ‘We’re going to get even. We’re going to get back at you,’” Kelly said.
No one was injured in any of the attacks, which wrought little or no damage at most of the sites.
The law enforcement official said the man bought five Frappuccinos, which cost about $2 each, and was given three for free the night of the attacks. He later was seen on video at a gas station a few hours before the first bomb was tossed, apparently filling up bottles with gasoline, the official said. Paper was used as a wick for at least one of the bombs.
The first hit was at 8 p.m., when a bottle was thrown at a counter at the corner store. The bomb did not explode, but gasoline leaked out and a small fire started.
Ten minutes later, a beer bottle smashed through the glass at a nearby home, setting the curtains on fire and badly damaging it. Three children and at least two adults were inside. The official said the man targeted that house because he believed it to be the home of a drug dealer. Authorities say he had the right street but the wrong address and didn’t know the family inside.
About half an hour later, the Islamic center, the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation, was hit with two Molotov cocktails made from Frappuccino bottles, one at the entrance where about 80 worshippers were dining and one near a sign for the center’s grade school. Glass shards were found at the scene.
Around 9:15 p.m., a homeowner in Elmont, just east of the city, reported a possible firebomb. He heard glass shattering, smelled gasoline and found a broken glass bottle on his porch. The official said the home belonged to a relative of the suspect and they didn’t get along.
And shortly after 10 p.m., two bottles were thrown at a house that police said was used as a Hindu temple for worship services. The bottle didn’t explode but caused a small fire on the lawn. The official said the man targeted the home because he believed someone with whom he once had a fight lived there.
Detectives working with surveillance footage from a few of the attacks and witness descriptions of the attacker located the vehicle at about 11:45 p.m. and staked it out. They said they noticed the man, who fit a police description of the attacker, trying to get into it Tuesday morning and took him into custody.
Authorities believe the man stole the car, a late-model Buick, from an Avis lot at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Dec. 30. They say they found three empty Frappuccino bottles in the backseat.
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