In the early morning on July 9, 2004, a fire burned much of the Continental Spices Cash & Carry, a grocery store in Everett, Washington, specializing in Pakistani, Indian and Middle Eastern groceries. The fire caused an estimated $50,000 in damages but no injuries. On putting out the fire, police and firefighters found a gasoline can, a spray-painted obscenity against Arabs and a spray-painted white cross. Rupinder Bedi, the proprietor of a 7-Eleven next door, told the Seattle Times how he found Continental Spices' manager, Mirza Akram, 37 and a Pakistani, crying and telling him "he had been harassed by some customers earlier this summer [and that] the verbal slurs didn't stop until he threatened to call police."
Further, the Everett Herald reports,
The morning of the fire, the store manager told investigators he feared the fire had been set in retaliation for attacks on Americans in the Middle East. He claimed that the month before, two white men came to the store and became upset when they learned he had been born in Pakistan. They left the store angry.
That was the story. On August 19, however, the police arrested Akram in his store on a federal arson warrant. He stands accused of setting fire to the store to collect insurance on the building and its contents. U.S. attorneys explained in court that mounting financial losses led Akram to stage an arson and then make it look like a hate crime.
Specifically: Akram was in the process of buying Continental Spices from the Z.A. Trading Corp. of Seattle; having already paid $52,800, he owed at least another $32,200. But gross sales at Continental Spices dropped from almost $11,000 a month in 2003 to less than $3,000 a month just prior to the fire, a decline in revenues that apparently made it impossible to make the monthly purchase payment of $640 and rent payment of $1,200.
Wrongly thinking Z.A. Trading Corp.'s insurance policy covered the store, Akram allegedly schemed for months to burn it down. (Ironically, the store was not on the policy.) On the evening of July 8. he met with an unnamed male friend (who has since turned state's evidence) at his home and told the friend how he had poured gasoline inside the store and lit incense above the gasoline, expecting the incense would ignite the gasoline.
Akram allegedly had the friend drive to the store in the early morning of the 9th to see if it was on fire. He called Akram and reported that is was not. Then, about 4 a.m. on July 9, the friend entered the store and dropped burning incense into the gasoline, causing a fire to erupt so fast that it burnt the friend's trousers. He "narrowly escaped" the building without injury.
Phone records obtained by investigators show 11 calls between Akram and his friend between midnight and 4 a.m. on the day of the fire. If convicted of arson, Akram faces up to 20 years in prison.
While Akram is presumed innocent until proven guilty, this tale points once again to (1) the need to treat claims of "hate crimes" with less than total credulity and (2) the unreliability and poor judgment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Immediately on July 10, CAIR rushed a press release out the door, "Arsonist Torches Muslim Store in Washington," calling on "local and national leaders to address the issue of growing Islamophobic prejudice following an arson attack on a Muslim-owned business in Washington State."
That mainstream organizations persist in treating CAIR as a serious "civil rights" group baffles this observer. What more must CAIR do to make them realize what it is?
Aug. 25, 2004 update: I put this case into context - giving many other examples of similar fakes - in a weblog entry, "More Muslim 'Hate Crime' Myths."
Sep. 8, 2004 update: The unnamed male friend above who actually set the fire now has a name; he is Naveed Khan, a 22-year-old sailor, and the Seattle Times reports that a federal grand jury last week indicted him on charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson. Yesterday, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service arrested him at Naval Station Everett and transported him to the federal courthouse, where the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives took him into custody. The ATF indicated that Akram offered Khan $2,000 to set fire to the Continental Spices Cash & Carry but Khan refused the money.
Aug. 31, 2006 update: Patrick Poole skewers CAIR for another incident of fraud, this one concerning Musa Shteiwi, his son Essa, and the supposed burning-down of their restaurant in Xenia, Ohio, which was in fact set by they themselves. When the story first broke, Poole relates, into it
jumped the Cincinnati-area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) – the self-proclaimed Muslim "civil rights" organization suggesting that anti-Muslim hatred was at work. An item posted on July 14th on the national CAIR website screamed the headline, "Blast at Arab-American Restaurant 'Suspicious'." Karen Dabdoub, the local CAIR spokeswoman, was quoted in the local media saying, "Anytime an attack like this happens, the perception in the Arab and Muslim community is that it is ethnically or religiously motivated. Especially in the absence of perpetrators being caught by law enforcement, that's the fear. Until that (motivation) is discovered, people speculate, rightly or wrongly."
When it turned out that the Shteiwis has set fire to their own restaurant, CAIR went silent. "Since the arrest of Shteiwi's associate, CAIR has refused further comment and has offered no apology for its shameless kafir-phobic behavior to the community they falsely impugned."
Poole then quotes some of my work on this subject to put the topic in context, and goes on:
To date, so far as I can tell, not only has CAIR not apologized for falsely accusing non-Muslims of hatred and bias in the respective communities where these hate crime hoaxes occurred, but the press releases on CAIR's website go uncorrected even after the truth is revealed. For instance, a press release related to a staged hate crime in McAllen, Texas still appears today without any correction or update whatsoever, even though multiple media outlets, including even the New York Times, had debunked the incident as a hate crime hoax perpetrated by the "victim" almost two years ago.
Admittedly, CAIR's ubiquitous appearance in stories related to staged hate crimes denouncing supposed Islamophobia makes for great press releases and news stories, but does little too actually improve American-Islamic relations (CAIR's self-stated goal). Such [incitement] feeds the very prejudices that distances Muslims from their non-Muslim neighbors.
Instead of building cultural bridges to achieve their social and political agenda, CAIR regularly burns those bridges by inciting kafir-phobia and carelessly making charges against non-Muslims. As Robert Spencer of JihadWatch pointed out in commenting on this latest incident, "Hate crimes are a big business: they enable the targeted group to claim victim status, which entitles that group to full-hearted Leftist support, and a free pass for all its own enormities."
Feb. 2007 update: In a one-day bench trial, Akram was found guilty of conspiracy to commit arson.
June 29, 2007 update: In a U.S. District Court in Seattle, Judge Marsha Pechman sentenced Akram to four years and three months in prison. A legal immigrant from Pakistan, he could be deported after serving his prison term. Pechman scolded Akram for the graffiti he used, which generated fears among Muslims that they might be attacked next.
May 13, 2010 update: Seven out of eight complaints brought by CAIR concerning the St. Cloud, Minn. school district were dismissed.