NYPD Says Suspect Admits 5 Firebomb Attacks

Published January 3, 2012 9:18PM (EST)

NEW YORK (AP) — A man confessed Tuesday to hurling crude Molotov cocktails at an Islamic cultural center and four other New York-area sites on New Year's Day because of personal grievances with all of the targets, police said.

The man was taken into custody Tuesday after he was tracked through a car with Virginia license plates that was believed to be at the scene of at least two of the attacks Sunday evening on a convenience store, two homes and the cultural center, authorities said.

His name wasn't immediately released. He made statements implicating himself in the attacks and had personal problems with each location. Two homes in Queens, one in neighboring Nassau County, the center and the store, said Paul Browne, spokesman for the New York Police Department.

He is facing arson-related charges, and it was unclear Tuesday afternoon whether the attacks were considered hate crimes, which could bring extra penalties.

The suspect is believed to be the same person kicked out of the convenience store on Dec. 27 for trying to steal a glass Starbucks bottle and milk, authorities believe. Four of the five crude firebombs thrown at the various locations were made from glass Starbucks bottles, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said earlier Tuesday.

Witnesses reported he 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 first hit was at 8 p.m., when a bottle was thrown at a counter at the corner store where the man was kicked out.

Ten minutes later, a possible firebomb smashed through the glass at a nearby home, setting it on fire and badly damaging it. Three children were inside.

About half an hour later, the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation, an Islamic center, was hit with two, one at the entrance where about 80 worshippers were dining, and one near a sign for the center's grade school.

Around 9:15 p.m., a homeowner in Elmont, Nassau County, reported a possible firebomb. He heard glass shattering, smelled gasoline and found a broken glass bottle on his porch. And shortly after 10 p.m., two bottles were thrown at a house that police said was used for Hindu worship services, causing minimal fire damage.

Detectives working with surveillance footage from the fourth attack — the one at the Hindu worship site — and witness descriptions of the suspect and vehicle and staked it out, noticing the man who fit a police description of the suspect trying to get into it Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, religious and city leaders met at the Islamic center to urge tolerance, though it remained unclear whether the incidents were hate crimes.

"As I said before, we don't know what the motive was," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

"But in New York City, as you know, we have no tolerance for violence, and certainly no tolerance for discrimination."

"Whether it was senseless violence or a hate crime will be determined down the road. But in either case, we're just not going to tolerate it in this city."


Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.

By Salon Staff

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