by Daniel Pipes
August 25, 2004
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
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 laft 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
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?
September 8, 2004 update: The unnamed male friend 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. If convicted,
he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.