Florida man indicted on hate crime charges in Astoria attack

By Bill Parry

Sarker Haque got a phone call Monday with the news he had been waiting to hear for more than a month since he was attacked inside his Astoria store. The Queens district attorney’s office told the 52-year-old Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh that a grand jury indicted the man who said “I kill Muslims” before allegedly beating him for 7 to 8 minutes Dec. 5.

“It made me feel very good, very good indeed,” Haque said.

Piro Kolvani, 55, of Jacksonville, Fla., was arraigned Monday before Acting Queens County Supreme Court Justice Barry Kron on a four-count indictment charging him with third-degree assault as a hate crime, assault, aggravated harassment and harassment, according to Queens DA Richard Brown.

The defendant was released on his own recognizance and ordered to return to court Feb. 11. If convicted, Kolvani faces up to four years in prison.

The incident began when the defendant entered Haque’s Fatima Food Market on 21st Avenue and started acting strangely, staring at a newspaper photo of the San Bernardino shootings, the victim recalled. According to the criminal complaint, Haque started to ask Kolvani a question when he suddenly blurted out “I kill Muslims” and began striking the victim in the face.

Haque sustained a cut to his lip as well as bruising and swelling to the left side of his face. A regular customer entered the store and helped hold Kolvani until police arrived.

Kolvani was arrested and released after he was issued a desk appearance ticket for assault and criminal mischief. But after a second interview with detectives from the 114th Precinct, the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit was notified.

“When my guys first got there, at no point did he mention there was a religious epithet,” Capt. Peter Fortune said last month. On Tuesday, Haque elaborated on the immediate aftermath of the attack.

“When they were putting me in the ambulance, I could not speak,” he said. “I had lost my voice from all the screaming I did during the attack. I couldn’t tell them because I could not speak.”

Haque said his spirits were lifted by his neighbors in the days following the attack. “The neighborhood was wonderful to me. It is something I’ll never forget,” Haque said.

State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), who came to the United States as an infant in the 1970s, helped organize a rally that drew hundreds to Fatima Food Market.

“I was heartened to learn that the criminal who viciously attacked Sarker Haque has been rearrested and charged with a hate crime,” she said. “These felony charges reflect the serious nature of the crime against Mr. Haque and state unequivocally that hate and violence have no home in our community.”

More than a month after the attack, Haque says he still gets visits from well-wishers. “The support Mr. Haque received makes clear there is no place for this kind of intolerance in our neighborhood,” state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.

City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) vowed continued support for the Muslim community and that hate would not be tolerated.

“We condemn this unconscionable behavior,” he said. “And we applaud the 114th Precinct for their handling of this serious incident.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) missed the rally, but paid a visit to the shop Dec. 13. He presented Haque with an American flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington.

“What happened to Sarker Haque, one of Astoria’s own, is not only reprehensible but it goes against everything our country stands for,” Crowley said. “I commend the NYPD for their swift work and I thank them for the thorough investigation of this incident as a hate crime. The charges against the attacker send a strong message that our communities and our city stand firmly against such hateful and violent acts and that we will speak out against this intolerance whenever and wherever it may appear.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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