By Ivan Pereira
A collection of religious leaders and elected officials from all over the city Tuesday stood by the worshipers of the borough’s largest mosque in Jamaica to send a message to the man under arrest for allegedly firebombing the center on New Year’s Day that they will not tolerate hate in the community.
Police said Queens Village resident Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, was arrested Tuesday in connection with the string of four Molotov cocktails in southeast Queens and charged with five counts of criminal possession of a weapon, one count of arson as a hate crime and four counts of arson.
While investigators were getting to the bottom of the crimes, the mayor, City Council speaker and other politicians met with the heads of Jewish, Christian and Muslim centers at the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center, at 89-89 Van Wyck Expressway, Tuesday morning to discuss the incident.
Although no one was hurt in any of the attacks and police did not reveal the man’s motive, NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly said his investigators were treating the acts as a possible hate crime.
“Attacks on houses of worship are egregious,” Kelly said at a news conference following the meeting.
The mayor echoed the commissioner’s statements and said he and the religious leaders’ show of solidarity send a powerful message to the community.
“Whether it is senseless violence or a hate crime will be determined down the road, but in either case we will not tolerate it,” he said.
Several of the religious leaders said they were appalled when they learned about the attacks and showed their support for the mosque, which is the largest Shiite Islamic center in the state.
“These acts inspire us to do more to come together,” said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
A candlelight vigil was held outside the mosque Monday night and dozens of worshipers came out to express calls for peace.
“We are all Americans. We are all family. If one gets hurt, we all get hurt,” said Imam Maan Al-Sahlani, the head of the Al-Khoei center.
The attacks that caused severe damage to four buildings started around 8 p.m. and lasted for more than two hours, police said. The suspect, described as a black man between 25 and 30 years old, 5 feet 8 inches tall and 200 pounds, allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail at a deli at 179th Street and Hillside Avenue, according to the NYPD.
Last week, the owner of the deli kicked out a customer who was trying to steal milk and a Frappuccino from the store, according to the police commissioner. Investigators strongly believe the ejected customer is the firebombing suspect, according to Kelly.
The man then threw another Molotov cocktail at a private residence at 146th Street and 107th Avenue before heading to the mosque, where 80 people were worshiping, and throwing two more firebombs at its front entrance, police said. The same person hit another private residence at 170th Street and 88th Avenue with a Molotov cocktail later in the night, but investigators were able to obtain surveillance videos from the house, according to the NYPD.
The last location had a Hindu worship temple in its backyard, but it is unknown if the man knew about the small place of worship before throwing the explosive device, according to a police source.
“When I went into the back, I was amazed at how large it was,” a source said of the Hindu place of worship.
The same man also hit a fifth residence in Elmont, L.I., with a Molotov cocktail later in the night, the commissioner said.
Kelly said the man was wearing a black jacket and baseball cap and was seen driving away from the locations in a light-colored sedan with Virginia plates.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.