Muslim woman set on fire was not target of hate crime, New York police say

Officials say three other victims were approached in a similar manner and in the same proximity as the Saturday attack on a Scottish woman

Police do not believe the man who set a Muslim woman dressed in traditional religious attire on fire in New York was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, they said on Wednesday, after more women are revealed to have been targeted.

Three other women were also targeted in a similar area, at a similar time as the incident on Saturday, according to the New York police department.

“The other women were NOT wearing clothing indicating they were Muslim,” the police department’s spokesperson told the Guardian via email. “The motivation for these crimes is not considered to be ‘bias-related’ at this time.”

On Saturday evening, a Scottish tourist who was wearing clothes that would identify her as a Muslim had her blouse set on fire while standing outside a designer shoes store on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

According to police, she felt a warmth on her left arm and noticed her sleeve was on fire before seeing a man standing in front of her with a lighter. He walked away without saying anything. The woman patted out the fire and was not injured.

On Wednesday, the NYPD said three other women were also targeted in Manhattan. Ten minutes prior to the Scottish woman’s attack, a man ignited a lighter next to an unidentified woman’s leg, also on Fifth Avenue. Around an hour later, a man of similar description ignited a lighter next to the arms of two women as they entered a subway station.

The NYPD now believes Saturday’s incident was not motivated by anti-Muslim bias as none of the other women were wearing clothing that would indicate they were Muslim. However, the Hate Crimes Unit will continue to investigate the case.

On Tuesday, the New York chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations offered a $1,000 reward for any information leading to the arrest or conviction of the man who set the Scottish tourist’s blouse on fire, or any other attacks motivated by anti-Muslim bias.

Albert Fox Cahn, director of strategic-litigation for Cair-NY, said it was too early to reach a conclusion on the attack as the investigation was ongoing.

“It’s premature to come to a conclusion while there are still questions,” of the attackers motivation, he said. “Our focus is seeing that all the available resources are dedicated to the investigation of this incident and finding the perpetrator as soon as possible.”

Police released a surveillance footage of the suspect on Tuesday, wearing a black tank top and hat, strolling down the street shortly after the attack.

The incident occurred during a wave anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent weeks and has left many Muslim Americans on edge. On Monday, a mosque in Florida – that was attended by Omar Mateen, the perpetrator of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub – was set on fire in an arson attack. Only days prior, two Muslim mothers pushing strollers were verbally and physically attacked by a woman in Brooklyn. Prosecutors said the woman told them to leave the country and attempted to rip off their hijabs.


Mazin Sidahmed in New York

The GuardianTramp

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