Federal authorities in New York today unsealed an indictment accusing a 40-year-old man dubbed the “Frappucino firebomber” with hate crimes for New Year’s Day Molotov-cocktail attacks on a mosque and a Hindu temple in Queens.
Ray Lazier Lengend, also known as Suraj Poonai, told police he intended to kill “as many Muslims and Arabs as possible” by throwing firebombs inside the places of worship, the New York Daily News reported shortly after the suspect’s Jan. 3 arrest.
The January attacks were part of a trend of rising hatred directed at Muslims that began in 2010, when anti-Muslim hate crimes shot up 50%, according to the FBI. That hatred seemed to be spurred mostly by controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned for lower Manhattan, along with the rapid spread of anti-Muslim rhetoric by opportunistic politicians and Islamophobic propagandists. Last year, the number of anti-Muslim hate groups counted by the Southern Poverty Law Center shot up to 30 from 10 in 2010.
The federal indictment returned in the Eastern District of New York charges Lengend with hate crimes and explosives offenses for racially and religiously motivated firebombings of the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation mosque in Jamaica, Queens, and a Hindu temple housed in a private residence in Hillside, Queens, on Jan. 1. He also is charged with an explosives offense in connection with his firebombing of a convenience store in Hillside, Queens.
Lengend, an unemployed truck driver who has been in custody since his arrest, was scheduled to be arraigned on March 26 at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y., Justice Department officials say.
The firebombing spree began at 8 p.m. on Jan. 1, investigators said, when Lengend, driving a silver Buick stolen from a car rental agency, went to a convenience store and bought five Starbucks Frappucino glass bottles. He filled them with gasoline at a second convenience store.
He then entered a third convenience store, this one located near the intersection of 179th Street and Hillside Avenue in Queens, and threw one of the “Frappucino firebombs.” It hit the ground, splashing burning liquid on the floor of the store, the FBI’s New York field office said in a news release. A store employee extinguished the flames, and no one was hurt.
After leaving the convenience store, Lengend drove to a private residence on 107th Avenue in Queens, where he allegedly hurled another fire bomb, causing substantial damage to the structure.
Lengend later went to the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation mosque, where he threw glass bottles containing gasoline at the building “with the goal of inflicting damage on the mosque and harming Muslims and Arabs,” the FBI news release said. Lengend’s final firebombing in Queens targeted the Hindu temple, which is located inside the residence of the temple’s leader. That fire was quickly contained and there were no injuries.
“Hate crimes offend the very principles upon which this country was founded, and those who engage in such conduct will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” said Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“This defendant allegedly sought to fan the flames of ethnic and religious tension,’’ Lynch said. “Those flames will always be extinguished by the rule of law.”