Man Charged with Firebombing NY Mosque, Hindu Temple
A New York man who told police he intended to kill “as many Muslims and Arabs as possible” faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for allegedly firebombing an Islamic mosque and a Hindu temple on New Year’s Day.
Federal authorities on March 19 charged Ray Lazier Lengend, also known as Suraj Poonai, with hate crimes and explosives violations. They say he used Molotov cocktails made from Frappuccino bottles to bomb the Imam Al-Khoei Foundation mosque, in the Jamaica neighborhood of Queens, and a Hindu temple housed in a private residence in Hillside, also in Queens. Lengend, 40, of Queens, is also charged with the Jan. 1 firebombing of a convenience store in Hillside. He has been in custody since his Jan. 3 arrest.
The attacks came amid a trend of rising hate crime targeting Muslims. FBI statistics for 2010, the latest available, show that anti-Muslim hate crimes shot up by 50% over the previous year. That is apparently the result of controversy surrounding an Islamic center planned near the site of the former World Trade Center in 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 tripled, from 10 in 2010 to 30 in 2011.
The problem shows no sign of abating. On Jan. 30, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Mosque in Chantilly, Va., was damaged when vandals broke nearly all the windows and door glass on its first level, causing damages estimated as high as $200,000. Investigators found several bottles of alcohol at the site and suspect the vandals were under the influence. No one had been arrested as of press time.
Ray Lazier Lengend, who is accused of using Molotov cocktails to attack houses of worship and a convenience store, allegedly told police he wanted to kill "as many Muslims and Arabs as possible."
It wouldn’t be the first time Sikhs have been mistakenly victimized by anti-Muslim bigots since 9/11. Last September, a Sikh-owned convenience store in North Carolina was heavily damaged by an arsonist who marked the 10th anniversary of the attacks with hate graffiti reading “9-11 Go Home.” Six months earlier, Surinder Singh, 65, was shot and killed in Elk Grove, Calif., while walking with his friend Gurmej Atwal, 78, who was critically injured and later died. Both were wearing dastars (traditional Sikh turbans) and long beards common to men of that faith.
The DOJ will also assist in investigating the Feb. 13 graffiti vandalism of the American Muslim Bekka Center in Dearborn, Mich., a city whose population is one-third Muslim.