Serial arsonist targets NYC Jewish area

December 9, 2015, 4:24am

AP on News24, photo: iStock

New York - Somebody has been burning down new homes in a New York City neighbourhood populated by Bukharian Jews, and police aren't sure whether the victims are being targeted for their religion, their architectural taste or for no reason at all.

Over the past six weeks, an arsonist has burned six buildings in the same area of eastern Queens, police say. Four of the fires hit new homes that were still under construction, including one house that was burned twice. No one so far has been injured.

The arsonist's motive is still a mystery. One theory is that he is targeting opulent, oversized homes that have been replacing the neighbourhood's modest dwellings. Another holds that the person behind the fires is disturbed.

Most of the victims have been Bukharian Jews, a group that fled persecution in Central Asia.

"The motives are - I wish we knew," New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton told reporters on Monday. "At this time we do not think it is a terrorist act or a hate crime."

"I don't know what to think," said Rabbi Zalman Zvulonov, whose future home, still under construction, was torched early on Monday - the second time it was targeted in three weeks. "There are only Jewish houses burning, so that tells you something. But I couldn't point a finger. I don't know."

Bukharian Jews immigrated to New York in the 1980s from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and throughout Central Asia. Many have done well. Behind fortress-like fences, luxury cars are parked in the driveways of rebuilt multi-storey homes.

"It could be just a crazy fanatic ... but nothing happens for no reason," said John Yakuboy, who emigrated from Uzbekistan in 1980.