Late-breaking news reports on Tuesday afternoon indicated that a 40-year-old man confessed to police that he was responsible for four firebombing attacks in Queens on the evening of January 1. At about 8 a.m. January 3 police picked up the suspect in a series of four firebomb attacks that occurred within blocks of each other in Jamaica on New Year’s Day, January 1. The homemade firebombs, known as Molotov cocktails, several fashioned from glass Starbucks frappuccino bottles, damaged a counter in the 179th Street Deli, the Al- Khoei Benevolent Foundation Islamic Center, a home at 146-62 107th Ave. so badly damaged in the attack that it was declared uninhabitable, and did minor damage to a home at 88-20 170th St. that also houses a Hindu temple. Police had released surveillance video and a sketch of the suspect on Monday, January 2.
The suspect in four firebombing incident in Jamaica and one in Elmont, Long Island, has been identified as Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, of 215th Street, Queens Village. Lengend, aan unemployed truck driver, was charged with five counts of possessing an explosive, four counts of arson and one count of arson as a hate crime for allegedly making anti-Muslim statements in reference to the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center. He has an extensive rap sheet in New York City and on Long Island for offenses including grand larceny, weapons possession, check-kiting and crack possession.
Surveillance camera footage linked a silver car with Virginia plates to the case. Detectives from the 103rd Precinct spotted the car late Monday in an area around 207th and Hillside and staked it out until just before 8 a.m. Tuesday, when a man identified as Lengend came to the car. An Avis rental car agency at John F. Kennedy International Airport had refused to rent the gray Buick to Lengend, who then stole the car and used it in his
Investigators have learned that Lengend firebombed the 179th Street Deli in revenge for being ejected from the store twice for shoplifting. He firebombed two houses in Jamaica on 107th and 170th Streets, one the site of Hindu worship services, because he believed drug dealers with whom he had conflicts in the past, one as long as five years ago, lived in the homes. In both cases, he was incorrect in his assumptions. The house on 107th Street sustained extensive damage.
Lengend firebombed the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center because he had been forbidden to use its bathrooms. He flung the last Molotov cocktail in the incident at a home in Elmont, Long Island, where an in-law resided.
A reward of $12,000 had been offered for information leading to the suspect’s arrest and conviction. He fled the scene of one attack in a light-colored, four-door sedan and police traced him through the vehicle’s Virginia license plates.
The attacks began when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the 179th Street Deli, owned by Salla Salim, a Muslim man, at about 8 p.m. January 1. Police received a second call some 10 minutes later that a homemade firebomb had been thrown at the house on 107th Avenue where a Christian family resides. The resulting blaze took 60 firefighters 40 minutes to bring under control.
At least two Molotov cocktails were hurled at the front door of the Al-Khoei Islamic Center off the Van Wyck Expressway at about 8:50 p.m., damaging its front door, but leaving some 100 worshipers inside uninjured.
At around 10:45 p.m., two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the home on 170th Av- enue, which, investigators said, was used for Hindu worship services. The incident apparently was the last one of the night.
At least three of the firebombs were made from glass Frappuccino bottles from Starbucks. No injuries were reported in any of the attacks, but the residents of the 107th Avenue house are now homeless.
Local elected officials expressed shock and outrage at the attacks.
“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 declared in a statement. He added that personnel from the Police Department Hate Crimes Unit and the 103rd Precinct Detective Squad were investigating and also attempting to determine if there are any connections to incidents outside New York City. Nassau County police are investigating a similar incident in which a bottle filled with gasoline was thrown at a house on Glafil Street in Elmont around 9:40 p.m. Sunday night. Elmont lies immediately over the county line from Queens.
“The attacks on a religious institution and private property in Queens represent a brand of intolerance and bigotry that cannot be allowed to stand in our city,” Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said. “These appalling acts of vandalism are an affront to all New Yorkers. I applaud the NYPD and state authorities for their rapid response, and urge the full prosecution of these attacks as the hate crimes they truly are.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement issued January 2 that he had asked Superintendent of State Police Joe D’Amico and Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Liz Glazer to provide any assistance that is needed for the investigation, “to make sure those who perpetrated these attacks are brought to justice and we prevent future bias crimes.” He added, “The four reported attacks on Sunday night go against everything we stand for as New Yorkers and Americans. 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. I am thankful that there were no reported injuries.”
City, state and federal elected officials, community and religious leaders held a news conference Tuesday at the Al Khoei Islamic Center, 89-89 Van Wyck Expwy., to denounce the attacks.
“The person or persons responsible for these attacks must be punished to the full extent of the law,” Queens Borough President Helen Marshall declared at the news conference. “Queens is America’s most diverse county. We have a rich history and pride ourselves on being home to the Flushing Remonstrance, a precursor of the Bill of Rights found in our country’s Constitution. We are the birthplace of religious freedom and cannot tolerate attacks like those which took place on Sunday night. I know our police department and the Queens District Attorney’s Office will conduct an aggressive investigation and do all that can be done to bring whoever is responsible for these crimes to justice.”