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Authorities boost search for arsonist

A newly installed NYPD Mobile Command Post in Forest Hills
Photo by Michael Shain
By Gabriel Rom

Police and fire officials in Forest Hills have their hands full. As city authorities intensify their search for a serial Forest Hills arsonist who may be armed, they have also arrested a suspect in a string of rubbish fires on Austin Street near the 112th Precinct.

Samer Shuaib, 36, from 65-05 Fleet St., has been charged with criminal mischief, arson and reckless endangerment after police said he set three small debris fires along Austin Street, near the 112th Precinct.

A video of the serial arsonist involved in the larger arson pattern taken Nov. 8 at around 7:20 p.m. at 112th Street and 68th Drive, shows the suspect pulling what police say might be a gun out of his left shoe and transferring it to his front right pocket.

In the video, the man is wearing a hooded sweater, gloves and sneakers. He also appears to be walking awkwardly.

Around 10 minutes after the video was taken, a fire broke out in a nearby vacant home at 68-60 112th St.

Police described the suspect as being between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-7, with a slim build. The man has been seen in three videos dressed in a hooded sweatshirt.

Police have asked homeowners in the area to direct all security cameras outward to the street.

The NYPD has increased patrols in Forest Hills and has dispatched undercover agents throughout the Cord Meyer neighborhood, according to 112th Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison.

At a Community Board 6 meeting Dec. 9, Harrison was joined by FDNY Borough Commander Edward Baggott and Commander Randall Wilson of the Bureau of Fire Investigation.

Wilson said the FDNY was working closely with the NYPD in a “full-court press by both agencies… reaching beyond what we normally do.”

Federal agencies have also offered their help, according to Wilson. While the FBI is not involved the current investigation, “their resources are being offered if needed,” he said.

Two dogs from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been used in combing through the rubble of one of the fire sites.

Harrison maintained that police are not calling the arsons hate crimes, but noted that she is in contact with Deputy Inspector Mark Magrone, the commanding officer of the Hate Crimes Task Force.

“We do realize what the correlation is between the owners and the Jewish community,” Harrison said. “But we feel right now that he is targeting properties that are under construction and those properties just so happen to be owned by certain people. If the property was owned by an Italian, he would still be targeting that property,” she said.

The Bukharian community is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist, in addition to $12,500 already offered by Crime Stoppers.

Police ask anyone with information regarding these incidents to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-577-TIPS (8477). The public can also submit their tips by logging onto the Crime Stoppers website at www,nycrimestoppers.com by texting their tips to 274637 (crimes) and entering TIP577.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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