NYPD says it has suspect in string of arsons on Bukharan Jewish homes

Julie Wiener

NEW YORK (JTA) — The New York Police Department says it has identified the arsonist responsible for at least six recent fires in a heavily Jewish neighborhood of Queens.

Seven fires set over the past month in Forest Hills have damaged under-construction homes of Bukharan Jews, The New York Jewish Week reported Wednesday.

The suspect, a man, lives in Forest Hills and has no criminal record, the police said Wednesday. Police said the fires are not hate crimes, but were motivated by the arsonist’s opposition to new construction in the neighborhood.

The NYPD said it identified the suspect after cracking a code in a note the arsonist left for police at the scene of the most recent fire, on Nov. 25. Instructions to “decode this message to find the person who caused the fire” preceded the code, the New York Daily News reported.

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The fires, some of which have spread to neighboring homes, have not injured anyone.

Forest Hills and its environs are home to an estimated 35,000 Bukharans — Jews who hail from the former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

New homes built by Bukharan Jews, usually after tearing down existing homes on the property, have been a subject of controversy for many years, with some longtime residents claiming that the new houses are oversized, showy and not in keeping with the neighborhood’s aesthetics.

In interviews with The Jewish Week, several Bukharan Jews questioned the police assessment that the arsons were not hate crimes.

“If seven Jewish homes had been burned in France within a month, there would be much more of an uproar,” said Boris Yuabov, a doctor who has lived in the community for the past six years.

“We are scared,” he added. “These fires are started in the dead of night in a neighborhood with many children and elderly individuals. This is a life-threatening situation.”

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