NEW YORK (AFP)
The mayor and governor of New York voiced outrage Monday after a mosque was hit by a firebomb in an arson spree that police said they were investigating as a hate crime.
The Imam Al-Khoei Foundation building in the borough of Queens suffered damage to the front door from a Molotov cocktail thrown late Sunday as up to 100 people were gathered inside. Two similar attacks occurred in the same neighborhood -- one in a convenience store run by Muslims and one at a house used as a temple by Hindu worshipers.
The foundation, which describes itself as the biggest international Shiite Muslim organization, said on its website that two firebombs were "hurled at the main entrance" but that there was "no major damage or injury."
The statement said 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."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the three Molotov cocktail attacks "stand in stark contrast to the New York City of today that we've built together."
"Personnel from the NYPD's Hate Crimes Unit and the 103rd Precinct's Detective Squad are moving at full steam to investigate and also determine if there are any connections to incidents outside New York City," Bloomberg said.
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo also said in a statement that the "reported attacks on Sunday night go against everything we stand for as New Yorkers and Americans."
Late Monday, police released a sketch of the main suspect, a heavily built man aged between 25 and 30. Dramatic security camera footage showed the suspect hurling a burning object in the final attack, against the house used as a Hindu temple.
The attacks began when a Molotov cocktail consisting of a flammable liquid in a glass Starbucks bottle was thrown in a corner store, known here as a bodega, striking the counter.
A source close to the investigation, who asked not to be identified, said that in the bodega "the employees are Muslim."
A third incident, occurring just one hour after the mosque attack, saw the same Starbucks bottle and accelerant type of weapon thrown at the home used as a Hindu temple. Nothing outside the house indicates its dual use as a temple, police said.
The evening also saw a fourth, more destructive attack that caused a major fire at a nearby private home. However, there was no proof of links between this and the other incidents.
"There were no injuries, but there was extensive damage," a police spokesman said.
The source with the investigation said that in this case arson was suspected, but there was no indication of the same firebombs being used. The inhabitants, who escaped unharmed, were Christian and had no connection to the mosque or to the bodega, the source said.
The Imam Al-Khoei center's acting imam, Maan al Sahlani, told NY1 television that between 85 and 100 people were in the building when its front door was attacked, but that most were safely located downstairs.
"We don't find any reason to attack others. As human beings here, we have to love each other, we have to respect each other. It doesn't matter the origin or what I believe or what you believe," al Sahlani said.
Bloomberg has been a staunch defender of the city's Muslim immigrant population, notably in the furor over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the former location of the Twin Towers, which were destroyed in the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks.
However, Muslim community leaders say their civil rights have been whittled away since 9/11, especially as a result of intrusive police surveillance.
Last week, a group of Muslim leaders boycotted an annual interreligious event held by the mayor to protest police tactics.
"During times when a community's rights are being flagrantly violated, its leaders cannot in good conscience appear at a public gathering with the government official who is ultimately responsible and smile for the cameras," read a letter the group sent to Bloomberg.
The group denounced the "very disturbing revelations" in media reports detailing how the city police have been "monitoring and profiling virtually every layer of NYC Muslim public life, often with no suspicion of wrongdoing."
Bloomberg told WOR radio that police "don't target any ethnic group." He said that some reporting in the media had been inaccurate and he defended the authorities' right to go "where the potential threats are reported to be."