Psychological evaluation ordered for unemployed truck driver charged with five New Year’s Day firebombings

The alleged Queens pyromaniac who unleashed a scary New Year’s Day firebombing spree will undergo a psychiatric evaluation before facing a judge, sources said. Ray Lazier Lengend, 40, is charged with carrying out five fire attacks and could face additional counts of arson if investigators corroborate his confessions to three earlier attacks, sources said. In those incidents, Lengend told cops he targeted two homes and tried to torch an SUV, sources said. The unemployed truck driver used a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle as a Molotov cocktail in at least one of the prior attacks - the same weapon he confessed to using in his New Year’s Day spree, sources said. An exterior wall was damaged in one of the earlier attacks. And in another incident, Lengend’s device failed to ignite, sources said. The admitted arsonist told cops he attacked one of the homes after a family member wronged him in some way, sources said. He will be evaluated at Bellevue Hospital Center and is expected to have his first court appearance in the coming days. Lengend faces five counts of criminal possession of a weapon and five counts of arson for hurling the bombs at targets in Queens and Elmont, L.I. Sunday. One of the attacks - which targeted the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center on the Van Wyck Expressway- is being charged as a hate crime because of the “broad anti-Muslim statements” Lengend made to detectives, police said. Lengend said all the torching stemmed from ongoing beefs. Those targeted by the firebug were relieved to see him off the streets. "He said he attacked us because we wouldn't let him use the bathroom. We don't believe it was because of this,” said Imam Maan Al-Sahlani, leader of Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center. “Obviously there is something wrong with him.” The imam applauded prosecutors use of the hate crime statute and hoped it would deter further anti-Muslim crimes. “This is a message to Continue Reading

Alleged New Year’s Eve firebomber says I don’t hate Muslims in psychiatric ward interview

The Queens man accused of targeting an Islamic center during a New Year’s Day firebombing spree insisted he has nothing against Muslims — and spun a wacky tale to back up his statement. Ray Lazier Lengend, a Guyanese immigrant and unemployed truck driver, is facing a hate crime charge for allegedly hurling a Molotov cocktail at the Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center on the Van Wyck Expressway in Jamaica, Queens. Police said he made “broad anti-Muslim statements” and told investigators he was mad at mosque officials for not allowing him to use the restroom. “I don’t have anything against them,” Lengend said of Muslims during an exclusive interview Thursday in the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he is being held. “They got something against me,” the unemployed truck driver added, his voice edgy. “They pulled guns and knives on me. It’s totally ludicrous.” Lengend, 40, is charged with carrying out five firebomb attacks. He could face additional arson counts for three earlier attacks with Molotov cocktails, at least one of which was made out of a Starbucks Frappuccino bottle, police said. Growing more and more agitated as he talked, Lengend was soon mumbling his statements — but he insisted that police forced him to confess to a crime he didn’t commit. “They don’t got evidence,” he said of the charges against him. “They just want to make the police report look good.” [email protected] Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Readers sound off on taxis, the new year and the NYPD

Many winners in taxi/livery deal East Elmhurst: Wheelchair users were big winners when Gov. Cuomo and the Legislature agreed that liveries and yellow cabs had to provide them with service. The city must submit a plan for yellow cab access, and Cuomo said he would approve only a plan that has 100% accessibility for yellows. There are also other winners not cited in your Dec. 27 editorial, “Taken for a ride.” Each accessible livery will receive a $15,000 grant, and all street-hail liveries will purchase a $1,500 permit, which is transferrable. These permits have the potential to grow in value, much like yellow cab medallions. Permits can be sold or used as collateral to buy a vehicle. The MTA is another big winner because demand will be reduced for its $500-million-per-year, $60-per-ride Access-A-Ride service. Moreover, trips for Medicaid, VA hospitals and clinics and vocational rehab, now made at public expense using expensive ambulettes, will be made by accessible liveries and yellow cabs. James Weisman, SVP & general counsel, United Spinal Association Out with the old Manhattan: I couldn’t agree more with Voicer Richard Banks. That Lexus Christmas commercial was grating and neverending. Darlene Barry To the Moon Ridgewood: “The Honeymooners” marathon is here, today on Channel 11! Thanks Ralphie boy, Alice, Trixie and the dimwitted but lovable Norton for the laughs. What a way to start off the new year! Francheisko Perez Make way, please Brooklyn: Dear tourists and fellow New Yorkers: Thank you so much for spending the holiday season here. Please spend a lot of money, but kindly don’t stop to have conversations on street corners. If you’re going to walk slowly, please step to the side so others can pass. Do not stop at subway entrances while texting. Trying to get home from work these past few weeks has turned me into a contortionist! Happy holidays to all! Shari Beckerman A year of better Continue Reading

Bomb explosion at New Year’s Mass in Egypt leaves 21 dead, Al Qaeda blamed by officials

Christians clashed with Egyptian police in the northern city of Alexandria on Saturday, furious over an apparent suicide bombing against worshippers leaving a New Year's Mass at a church that killed at least 21 people. It was the worst violence against the country's Christian minority in a decade. The Interior Ministry blamed "foreign elements," and the Alexandria governor accused al-Qaida, pointing to the terror network's branch in Iraq, which has carried out a string of attacks on Christians there and has threatened Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Christian community as well. Egypt's government has long insisted that the terror network does not have a significant presence in the country, and it has never been conclusively linked to any attacks here. If al-Qaida was involved, it raises the prospect of a serious new security threat within Egypt. President Barack Obama condemned "this barbaric and heinous act" and said those behind it must be brought to justice. The bombing, about a half hour after the stroke of the New Year, stoked tensions that have grown in recent years between Egypt's Christians and the Muslim majority. A Coptic protester, center-left, prepares to hurl an object at riot police during clashes between Coptic youths and riot police. (Curtis/AP) It was dramatically different from past attacks on Christians, which included shootings but not serious bombings, much less suicide attacks. Christians have increasingly blamed the government for not taking violence against them or anti-Christian sentiment among Muslim hard-liners seriously. In the wake of the New Year's bombing, they unleashed their rage at authorities. "Now it's between Christians and the government, not between Muslims and Christians," shrieked one Christian woman as several hundred young men clashed with helmeted riot police in the street outside the targeted church hours after the blast. As the rioters threw stones and bottles, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to Continue Reading

Queens Coptic Christians mourn 21 killed in Alexandria, Egypt moments before New Year

When members of St. Mary and St. Antonio's Coptic Orthodox Church in Ridgewood gathered for New Year's Eve, it wasn't a festive occasion. Instead, they mourned 21 Coptic Christians killed and nearly 100 others injured by a suicide bomber outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt, just hours before. "It sheds a dark cloud over a season that's supposed to be so joyous," said the Rev. Michael Sorial of the Queens church. The Egyptian Coptic community has been beset by violence in recent months. Jan. 6 marked the first anniversary of the gunning down of nine Copts by a Muslim outside midnight Mass in Nag Hammadi, on the Eve of Coptic Christmas. In November, Egyptian police fatally shot two young Coptic Orthodox Christian men who were demonstrating for the right to build a new church. The heartache extends to New York, where a Coptic Orthodox community is growing. Many Coptic Christians have escaped escalating persecution in Egypt to practice religion freely in the U.S. while assimilating into American culture. From 1976 to 2000, the Coptic community in the U.S. has grown from 14 churches and 40,000 members to 100 churches and 300,000 congregants, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. There are six Coptic churches in New York City: St. Mary and St. Antonio's in Ridgewood; St. George in Astoria; St. George in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn; Archangel Michael and St. Mena, and Virgin St. Mary and St. George, both on Staten Island, and St. Mark in Manhattan. "We're very lucky to be here. It's the best country in the world when it comes to religion," said Joseph Botros, 59, of Staten Island, an accountant who arrived in 1979 after fleeing Alexandria. "The United States has tolerance for everybody." Copts, who make up 10% of Egypt's population, say that prejudice and violence against them are facts of life. The U.S. State Department's annual religious freedom report stated that although Egypt's constitution recognizes non-Muslim religions, Christians Continue Reading

Thai bombing hits New Year’s festivities

SYDNEY, Australia - A bomb attack wounded 27 people Monday in a Thai tourist town where people had gathered to celebrate the New Year, officials said. Muslim insurgents were suspected in the attack in Sungai Kolok on the border with Malaysia, where two blasts went off inside a hotel discotheque and one in the basket of a motorcycle outside a hotel, army spokesman Col. Akara Thiprote said. A blaze in fireworks stalls injured two people in the Philippines but celebrations elsewhere went off without incident. A million revelers cheered in Australia as fireworks sprayed from Sydney's iconic Harbor Bridge in a massive display ignited at the stroke of midnight. Thousands in Sydney staked out harborside vantage points with beach umbrellas and ice boxes from first light Monday to enjoy Australia's annual centerpiece celebration. Others joined a flotilla of 3,000 boats beneath the giant steel arch bridge for the 12-minute show, which saw $527,000 in pyrotechnics launched from barges, city roof tops and the bridge. Chinese President Hu Jintao said in a New Year address broadcast live on state television and radio that he hoped Beijing's hosting of the 2008 Olympics would help China improve relations with its global partners. Hu said the Games, which are to kick off on Aug. 8, should act as a platform for "promoting understanding and friendly cooperation between the people of China and the world." Human rights groups have criticized China for failing to improve human rights and media freedoms in line with its Olympic promises in 2001. In Japan, the country's three main mobile phone carriers urged holiday-makers to hold off calling family and friends or sending messages from their phones in the first two hours of 2008 to prevent a system overload. "We will try to deliver as many 'congratulations' as we can, but we may have to restrict services temporarily," read an advertisement sponsored by NTT DoCoMo Inc., KDDI Corp. and Softbank Corp. in the nation's major Continue Reading

City public schools will observe Lunar New Year starting in 2016

It’s going to be a very happy Lunar New Year for the city’s Asian community. Mayor de Blasio is planning on adding Lunar New Year to the public school calendar next year — a recognition of the growing number of Asian students in the city’s school system. “Working toward a more inclusive city: Tomorrow, @nycgov will designate Lunar New Year an official @nycschools holiday,” de Blasio tweeted late Monday. The holiday, celebrated by Asians all over the world, often falls during the school week. About 15% of the city’s school system is of Asian descent, and many students have been taking the day off as a sick day, said State Sen. Daniel Squadron. “It’s a big deal,” said Squadron, whose district includes Manhattan’s Chinatown. “Families have had to choose between their most important cultural celebration, and missing a day of school.” Assemblyman Ron Kim, the first Korean-American elected to the state Legislature, said the move was more significant than just adding another day off from school. “It's about Asian culture being acknowledged as part of the American fabric for the next generation of kids to understand that Asian-Americans are as American as any other community,” he said. De Blasio had been under pressure to add the holiday to the calendar, especially since adding two Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, in March. The State Senate had just passed a bill that would have forced the city to give kids the day off, and the Assembly was on the verge of holding a vote. If passed, that bill would have taken effect in the 2017/18 school year. The next Lunar New Year falls on Feb. 8. ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE. Continue Reading

De Blasio is not adding additional school holidays after Lunar New Year — angering Hindu community members wanting Diwali

Mayor de Blasio shut the door on any more new school holidays Tuesday- angering members of the Hindu community who want Diwali recognized. He made the comments minutes after declaring Lunar New Year an official school holiday. "There are many wonderful communities in this city," he said, surrounded by students and lawmakers at a school in downtown Flushing. "I understand anyone's impulse to add additional holidays, but at this point, I've kept my pledge, and I don't intend to make any additions anytime in the foreseeable future." But Sheetal Shah, senior director of the Hindu American Foundation, said city officials told her in April the mayor was considering additional holidays. "While the inclusion of the Muslim holidays and Lunar New Year is commendable, we are deeply disappointed by the mayor's exclusion of Diwali, a festival that is celebrated by thousands of our city's Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs," she said. "Our community's students continue to be forced to choose between attending school and observing this important festival." ON A MOBILE DEVICE? WATCH THE VIDEO HERE. Continue Reading

Advocates accuse de Blasio of reneging on Lunar New Year promise

Angry lawmakers and civic leaders lashed out at Mayor de Blasio Monday, saying he is reneging on a promise to make Lunar New Year a holiday for New York City schoolchildren. “Last week (de Blasio) announced that he would be closing schools for two Muslim holidays and excluded Lunar New Year,” said Christine Colligan of the Korean American Parents Association of Greater New York. “This is clear discrimination.” Continue Reading

Close school once in a blue moon: After Muslim holidays, some want to give all 1.1 million NYC public-school kids off for Lunar New Year and Diwali

In keeping with a long, not-quite-honorable tradition of politicians bowing and genuflecting (often literally) to the various ethnic and religious tribes of New York City, the addition of two Muslim holidays to the school-closing calendar has predictably been followed by demands for another school closing to celebrate the annual Asian Lunar New Year. A group of pols who represent heavily Asian districts recently took to the steps of City Hall to argue that all 1.1 million of New York’s schoolchildren — 85% of whom are not Asian — should be kept home every year on the second new moon following the winter solstice. “It’s great news that public schools will be closed on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, and it’s essential that Lunar New Year have the same result,” said state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Manhattan), whose district includes Chinatown. “Acknowledging some cultures but not others, the mayor is playing a dangerous game by invalidating and further marginalizing ethnic communities,” said Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens). Waiting in the wings are members of a coalition that has already petitioned Mayor de Blasio to close the schools on Diwali, the Festival of Lights that commemorates the marriage of Lord Vishnu and the goddess Lakshmi for Hindus and coincides with the elevation of Lord Mahavira, a pivotal figure in the Jain religion, to a state of nirvana. At this rate, it’s only a matter of time before leaders of the city’s growing African population start nagging City Hall about letting kids skip school during the feast days dedicated to Shango, Babalu Aye and other Yoruba deities. Enough already. The city Education Department should strip the school calendar of every religiously inspired holiday — including the Jewish and Christian oldies like Rosh Hashanah and Good Friday — and revert to a bare-bones schedule that coincides with secular federal holidays like New Continue Reading