NYC Firebombing Suspect Charged with Hate Crime

PHOTO: Police raise an overhead surveillance lift in front of the Iman al-Khoei Benevolent Foundation in New York, Jan. 2, 2012. The foundation houses an Islamic cultural center, including a school, that was attacked with a Molotov cocktail at the front o
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A New York man suspected of five New York City fire bombings was arrested today and charged with a hate crime.

Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, was charged with one count of arson as a hate crime and four counts of arson in connection with the Sunday attacks that targeted an Islamic center, a Hindu temple, a bodega and two private homes.

Lengend was arrested by cops who staked out a vehicle overnight awaiting the return of the vehicle's owner.

According to law enforcement officials, Lengend made statements that appear to implicate him in at least some of the bombings, but stopped short of a confession in the first rounds of interrogation.

Detectives, relying on statements from witnesses and grainy surveillance video, determined the suspected bomber drove a late model car with Virginia license plates. Based on the wheels and basic wheel covers, Auto Crime unit detectives who viewed the video were able to conclude it was probably a rental car.

When a gray four-door Buick Regal with cheap wheel covers and Virginia plates was discovered in Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, N.Y., around midnight, police patiently waited for its driver to appear.

When he did early this morning, he was taken into custody.

Possible Hate Crime Motive in New York City Firebombings

According to police the motives in the five bombings, which are currently categorized as possible hate crimes because of the religious nature of at least two of the locations bombed, remain unclear.

In announcing the development at a meeting with leaders at a Queens Islamic center, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the city will not tolerate these attacks.

Bloomberg told them the attacks are unacceptable, "whether it was a senseless act of violence or a hate crime."

"We don't know what happened here yesterday," Bloomberg said. "We're doing the kind of investigation you would expect."

The first incident, officials said, appeared to be motivated by retribution. The suspected bomber was caught shoplifting from a deli, was confronted, and after a container of milk and a Starbucks Frappacino were recovered, he was manhandled and forcibly evicted, police said. He allegedly returned, tossed a Molotov cocktail packed in a Starbucks bottle, and fled. A resulting fire was extinguished with minimal damage and there were no injuries.

Subsequently four more attacks occurred within the short time frame of 8 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. within a small radius of Queens.

The subsequent attacks began with an assault on a mosque frequented by members of the Guyanese community. Next hit was a home occupied by an African American who is Christian. That was followed by the attempted firebombing of a Hindu temple frequented by members of the Guyanese community, but not marked from the street. The last occurred in Elmont on the home of persons of Indian descent.

None of the attacks caused any injuries, but flames that erupted at one of the homes took more than 60 firefighters about 40 minutes to control. The other home attacked, which also serves as a Hindu temple, was hit by two Molotov cocktails thrown from a van that sped away. The bottles fizzled out.

Officials said they are investigating whether all of the bombing locations had links to the Guyanese community and/or were known to the suspect.

Officials said that the suspect matches the description of the suspected bomber.

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