A Muslim woman wearing traditional garments had her clothes set on fire by a man with a lighter as she shopped on a crowded New York City street over the weekend, police said Monday.
The 35-year-old was dressed in a hijab and standing outside a Valentino store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Saturday night, when she felt heat on her left side, according to the New York City Police Department.
The woman, who has not been identified, saw that her blouse was on fire and patted out the flames. When she looked up, she noticed a man standing with a lighter in his hand, police said.
The man disappeared down a side street, leaving the startled woman with a “quarter-sized hole” in her blouse and no injuries, NYPD spokesman Christopher Pisano told The Washington Post.
“The male doesn’t say anything and walks away,” Pisano said.
Police are investigating the alleged assault as a hate crime. No one has been arrested and no suspects have been identified. Pisano said the woman was visiting the city from another country; DNAinfo described the woman as a dentist from Glasgow, Scotland.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said the incident fit an alarming pattern of attacks on Muslims and Islamic sites in recent months.
“We are clearly seeing a spike in attacks on individual Muslims and Islamic institutions in New York and around the country, which should be of concern to all Americans,” said Afaf Nasher, director of the group’s New York chapter, in a statement posted on Facebook. “It is time for the mayor and the NYPD to put forward the necessary resources to investigate and prevent these attacks on the Muslim community.”
The incident comes just days after a Brooklyn woman allegedly beat two Muslim mothers as they pushed their toddlers in strollers down a busy sidewalk in the borough’s ethnically diverse Bath Beach neighbourhood.
The woman, Emirjeta Xhelili, punched one of the mothers in the face and tried to rip off her hijab while screaming obscenities at them, authorities told the New York Daily News. Xhelili then allegedly tried to grab the other mother’s stroller, which was carrying her 15-month-old child, according to the Daily News. Xhelili, 32, was arrested and charged with hate-crime assault. Xhelili is being held on $50,000 bond or $25,000 (Dh91,823) cash bail, according to The Associated Press. Her lawyer told the Daily News she has no prior arrests.
In another attack that has stoked fear in the city’s Muslim community, a Queens man in August allegedly shot and killed an imam and his assistant as they left afternoon prayers in the borough’s Ozone Park neighbourhood. Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Miah were walking together on a weekend afternoon when Oscar Morel came up behind them and shot them execution-style in their heads, authorities said. Morel, who is charged with murder, has denied killing the men.