Queens Arson Attacks Under Investigation as Hate Crimes

PHOTO: Four arson attacks in Queens, N.Y. are being investigated as possible hate crimes against Muslims on Jan. 2, 2012.PlayABC News
WATCH 'Molotov Cocktail' Thrown at Mosque, Homes

Four arson attacks in Queens, N.Y., are being investigated as possible hate crimes against Muslims, police said.

The attacks, which took place around 8 p.m. Sunday, targeted an Islamic center housing a prominent Shiite mosque, a bodega and two private homes.

Police and fire officials say at least two of the attacks appear to have stemmed from a dispute at the bodega, where a customer of Guyanese descent argued with an employee. The customer allegedly returned to the bodega and tossed a Molotov cocktail behind the counter. Authorities were investigating whether the employee worshiped at the Islamic center, which was hit by a similar firebomb made from a glass Starbucks bottle.

"No matter what the motivation was of the individual who threw Molotov cocktails in Queens last night, his actions stand in stark contrast to the New York City of today that we've built together," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement.

The door of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation Islamic center was blackened by the blast but the building did not catch fire. About 80 worshippers were inside the center at the time, the Associated Press reported.

"We thank Allah (SWT) that no major damage or injury was caused by the blast," reads a message on the foundation's website. "The Foundation reiterates its resolve to continue to serve the community and to strive to bring love where there is hatred, light where there is darkness and enlightenment where there is ignorance."

A fifth attack involving an incendiary device thrown through the front window of a home in neighboring Nassau County at 9:40 p.m. is also under investigation. The device did not ignite a fire, and no injuries were reported. NYPD officials say the firebomb matched the Molotov cocktails used in the first three Queens attacks.

Although none of the attacks caused any injuries, 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.

All five incidents are under investigation as arsons. At least some appeared to target Muslims.

"The four reported attacks on Sunday night go against everything we stand for as New Yorkers and Americans," Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. "Attacks such as this have no place in our open and inclusive society and we must do all we can to ensure New York remains a safe and tolerant place for all."