After fifth fire in Forest Hills, Jewish leaders label serial arson as hate crime – QNS.com

After fifth fire in Forest Hills, Jewish leaders label serial arson as hate crime

Pol;ice released this photo of a masked man with glasses on a motorcycle taken near the scene of the fourth fire on Thankgiving eve.
By Madina Toure and Michael Shain

The Bukharian Jewish Center of Forest Hills is calling a series of fires throughout Forest Hills a hate crime and is offering $50,000 reward for tips after the latest suspected arson hit the home of a rabbi early Sunday morning.

At about 12:18 a.m. Sunday, a fire took place at 112-35 69th Road, according to the police. The location was previously hit by the alleged arsonist at about 10:10 p.m. Nov. 15, police said.

The incidents also occurred at about 11:12 p.m. Nov. 25 at 108-47 67th Drive, at about 6:30 p.m. Nov. 17 at 108-49 66th Ave. and at about 9:30 a.m. Nov. 8 at 68-20 112th St., police said.

A police spokeswoman said the investigation was ongoing and that the NYPD could not confirm whether the arsons are a hate crime yet.

The house burned in the most recent incident belongs to Rabbi Valman Zvulunov, the director of the Bukharian Jewish Center’s Yeshiva, who lives in Maspeth.

At an emergency meeting convened by an ad hoc committee of leaders from the Bukharian Jewish Center Sunday morning, Zvulunov received a call about his house being burned at about 2 a.m., he said, noting that in the last incident, someone set a small fire to a doorway and the Fire Department had put it out.

Rafael Nektalov, editor and publisher of the Bukharian Times, a weekly newspaper, said every victim is a member of the Bukharian community, noting that if the incident had occurred in Russia or France, “there would have been headlines about fires in the Jewish quarter.”

“Where were you before this? There is a fire being set every week,” Nektalov said. “We are very disappointed with the media attention these fires have gotten. Every week, I am putting this story on the front page. It is getting to be a tradition.”

Police have described the arsonist as a male with a light complexion wearing glasses, a scarf on his face and a green helmet and riding a motorcycle.

The police spokeswoman said the arsonist left a note taunting police and that police have deciphered the note, which states, “Decode this message to find out the person who caused this fire.” She also confirmed that the suspect left a riddle that had to be solved in order to decode a separate note left at the scene.

The Bukharian Jewish Center is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist. Signs at the site of the first fire on lampposts state that the NYPD is offering up to a $2,500 reward as well.

Detectives at the scene appeared to be trying to identify which houses in the neighborhood were under construction.

Aron Borukhov, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the ad hoc committee, who is also part of the committee, suggested that cops put a patrol at every construction site and 360-degree-view cameras at every intersection.

He said that anyone could be behind the arsons, saying that it could be an anti-Semitic individual or an individual with mental issues.

“These fires are so big they are affecting houses on both sides,” Borukhov said. “It’s not just construction sites that are being burned. It is a very dangerous situation.”

He explained that because there is a permit posted at construction sites showing who the owner is, the arsonist knows who owns the houses.

“It (fires) has been only the Jewish community,” he said. “Nobody else. We can only make conclusions from what we have seen.”

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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