Posted on August 20, 2004

Federal Agents Arrest Manager In Store Arson

Katherine Schiffner and Diana Hefley, HeraldNet (Wash.), Aug. 20

EVERETT — A Pakistani-owned market gutted by arson in July was burned by the store’s manager, police said Thursday, ending speculation that the fire was a hate crime.

Federal agents arrested the Everett man, 37, at Continental Spices market Thursday on a federal arson warrant.

Police suspect the manager and a friend spray-painted the message “F U Arab” and white crosses inside the store in an attempt to mislead investigators, then used gasoline to set the building on fire.

The July 9 fire caused an estimated $90,000 in damage and triggered widespread alarm that the arson was motivated by hate.

But Everett arson investigators and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives discovered that “the business was in trouble financially and there was a desire to stop the losses,” Everett police Sgt. Boyd Bryant said.

The store manager, who was working to buy the market, apparently hoped to recoup his money through the store’s fire insurance, Bryant said.

The market at 315 E. Casino Road sold groceries and spices from the Middle East. The manager was buying it from Seattle-based Za Trading Co. He’d already paid $52,800 and owed at least $32,200 more, said Ahmed Sheikh, Za Trading Co.’s chief executive.

“I’m in shock,” said Sheikh, who said no one at the Za company had a role in the blaze. “We trusted him a lot. . . . I don’t know why he did this, if he did.”

Police say the store manager and his friend came close to being burned. Police suspect the store manager’s first attempt to start the fire wasn’t successful, so his friend made a second try.

The friend’s pants caught fire, and he “narrowly escaped” from the burning building, Bryant said.

The friend has not been arrested, Bryant said.

No one was hurt in the fire, but the business on the other side of the market, the Ping hair salon, sustained water damage.

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, he said.

Police suspect the report was another attempt to distract investigators.

Muslims could feel the backlash of the faked hate crime, said Jeff Siddiqui of American Muslims of Puget Sound, an education and advocacy group.

“Everyone in the Muslim community is going to feel let down,” he said. “This could exacerbate any hostilities already there. It is bad enough when we’re tagged for things we don’t do. Generally, this will be another stain on the name of Muslims.”