‘Person of interest’ in custody for Molotov cocktail attacks

A man is currently being held for questioning by authorities in connection with a string of five fire bombings, four in Queens and one on Long Island, being investigated as possible hate crimes.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, along with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other Queens elected officials, gathered at one of the targets, the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica, to condemn the attacks.

“We currently have a person of interest in custody,” said Kelly at the press conference on Tuesday, January 3. Police linked the unnamed suspect’s vehicle to a bodega on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica where he was thrown out on December 27 after the owner suspected him of shoplifting. As he was pushed out of the store, the man allegedly threatened the owner with retaliation.

That bodega was later firebombed, along with four other targets, with a Molotov cocktail made from a glass Starbucks bottle – one of the items the man in question was suspected of shoplifting.

According to police, the incidents occurred between 8 and 10:15 p.m. on Sunday, January 1. No injuries were reported and damage to the mosque was minimal. On Monday, January 2, police released a sketch of the suspect and video showing the man hurling a flaming bottle at a home on 170th Street that doubles as a Hindu place of worship.

The other two targets were private homes, with one house sustaining heavy fire damage in the living room, though no injuries were reported. But according to Kelly, three young children were in the residence at the time of the attack – a fact which could very well up the charges.

After meeting with representatives of the mosque and elected officials, Bloomberg said that the city will not tolerate violence, whether it was a senseless act or a more targeted hate crime.

“In either case, one attack is too many,” he said. “We all know that we are in this together and discrimination against one is discrimination against many.”

Borough President Helen Marshall called it a “sad day” and said that she was extremely upset by the thought of attacks like these happening in a borough as diverse as Queens.

“This man must be punished by the fullest extent of the law,” she said. “To throw bombs without knowing who is inside – it’s just wrong, and it’s not Queens.”

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