A Queens Village man has been indicted on state and federal charges for allegedly firebombing five buildings, two of them houses of worship, in Queens on New Year’s Day.
Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, also known as Suraj Poonai, allegedly told police that his plan was “to inflict as much damage as possible and take out as many Muslims and Arabs as possible,” according to the Queens District Attorney’s Office.
Lengend is facing 36 state charges including arson as a hate crime, grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, criminal possession of a weapon and endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted of the most serious count, first-degree arson as a hate crime, Lengend faces 25 years to life in prison.
“Hate crimes — whether they be motivated by religion, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender — will not be tolerated here in Queens, the country’s most diverse county,” Queens DA Richard Brown said in a prepared statement. “When they do, regrettably, occur they will be condemned swiftly and those responsible will be brought to justice.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office, in an indictment announced on the same day, Monday, charged Lengend with a hate crime through use of fire and explosives; a hate crime through damaging religious property; causing damage by fire and explosives; and using fire and explosives to commit a felony — all for the alleged attack on the mosque.
He is also being charged with a hate crime through the use of fire and explosives, using fire and explosives to commit a felony and causing damage by fire and explosives for the alleged attack on the Hindu temple. If convicted of all charges, Lengend faces an additional 20 years to life in prison.
“Violence directed against individuals or groups because of their demographic identity is an affront to the Constitution and a crime,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Jan Fedarcyk said in a prepared statement. “The FBI is committed to protecting and preserving the rights of all Americans, including the free exercise of one’s chosen religion.”
The DA alleges that:
Lengend drove a stolen silver Buick Regal with Virginia license plates to a gas station where he bought five glass coffee bottles and later filled them with gasoline.
Lengend then drove to a deli at 179th Street and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and once inside, threw a Molotov cocktail. When the bottle hit the floor, gas spilled out and immediately ignited. Lengend then fled the scene in the Buick.
An employee there, who put out the fire, recognized Lengend as the same man he had seen a week earlier trying to steal a bottle of Starbucks Frappacino and a bottle of milk from the store.
Next, Lengend tossed another firebomb through the front bedroom window of a house located at 146-62 107 Ave. in Jamaica. Some of the windows were blown out and there was fire damage to both the inside and outside of the residence.
In a third incident, Lengend threw a flaming glass bottle at the exterior wall of the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center at 89-89 Van Wyck Expressway in Jamaica, causing a fire on the front steps.
“We forgive him because everyone makes mistakes, but the law still has to apply to them, so in the future they don’t do it again,” Maan Al Sahlani, an imam at the mosque said Monday. “If the court doesn’t do anything, then next time they could be a danger to someone else, not only a mosque, but a church or other places where people worship.”
Al Sahlani was pleased to hear of the indictment.
“I think this result will show others that they can’t do anything wrong that they want to a place of worship in America,” he said. “That’s the right decision for that man.”
Lengend also allegedly threw a glass bottle containing gasoline at a house that was also used as a Hindu Temple at 88-20 170th St. in Jamaica, causing a fire on the lawn, and targeted a house at 111-11 43 Ave. in Corona.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) introduced a bill last month that would increase penalties for anyone vandalizing or stealing from a house of worship. Eric Walker, a spokesman for the lawmaker, decried the Queens bombings this week.
“It is very important that people have a safe place to worship as a community of faith,” he said Tuesday. “The horrifying murder of four people at a Yeshiva in France on Monday serves to highlight the need for a safe place to worship and learn for people in our city and across the world.”