Police, other NYC officials meet with Bukharians about rash of arsons

Julie Wiener

NEW YORK (JTA) — The president of the New York City borough of Queens, the New York Police Department’s chief of detectives and numerous other city officials met with Bukharian Jewish leaders about a string of arsons affecting the community of central Asian Jews.

At a meeting Tuesday morning at the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills, a neighborhood that has experienced seven arsons since October, officials promised heightened security measures, the Queens Times Ledger reported.

The previous day, the NYPD announced it sent several elite units to the neighborhood and published surveillance video showing the suspected arsonist.

READ: Bukharian Jews have a long but not always happy history

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All seven fires, the most recent one over the weekend, have been set at construction or renovation sites of Bukharian-owned homes. An estimated 50,000 Bukharians live in New York, the vast majority of them in Forest Hills, where community members’ construction of large, expensive homes, mostly on plots that once housed more modest residences, has sparked tensions with longtime residents in recent years.

“Today’s meeting was a very good sign that both the community and the Police Department, Fire Department and elected officials are all interested in solving the problem at hand,” Aron Borukhov, a Bukharian community leader, said at a news conference after the meeting.

Borukhov said his community is organizing security patrols that will work cooperatively with police.

Borough President Melinda Katz said: “This is something that we take extremely seriously and the community stands together in making sure that we find this arsonist that is out there destroying not only people’s homes, but people’s lives and people’s dreams.

READ: Bukharian Jews in US walk tightrope between tradition, modernity

NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said the police do not believe the suspect has ties to terror groups, but that they have not yet determined his motives. While NYPD officials have told the media they do not believe the arsons are hate crimes, Boyce said Tuesday that the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force is among those investigating.

“We have a specific community that is being targeted here,” Boyce said. “That community is behind me today, and we need their support.”

Deputy Inspector Judith Harrison, commanding officer at the 112th Precinct including Forest Hills, said, “We are speculating about the motive, but that’s what it is, speculation. We aren’t ruling anything out. We don’t believe it is bias at this time, but everything could change.”

Harrison said police have a list of 29 buildings in the area that are under construction in the neighborhood and they plan to monitor the sites.

The NYPD is offering a $12,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the arsonist; the Bukharian Jewish Community is offering a $50,000 reward.

At the news conference, State Sen. Toby Stavisky said, “It’s sad that [Bukharian Jews] cannot feel safe in their homes anymore, that they left a disturbing situation in the former Soviet Union and they have to face this in their new home.”

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