Two Israeli yeshiva students thought that they were the intended victims of a Molotov cocktail that exploded near them on a Hell's Kitchen sidewalk on Friday afternoon, but police now say the manager of a neighborhood food-cart storage business was the actual target.
The as-yet-unidentified assailant hurled a bottle filled with combustible liquid on West 37th Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, at about 1:30 p.m. on Friday. It landed in the vicinity of yeshiva students Yosef Rachimi and Yisrael Gadasi, visiting from Israel, as well as Saleh Hegazy, owner of Hegazy Food Vendor. The bottle smashed harmlessly on the pavement and Hegazy extinguished the flames with water.
"Everybody was scared," Hegazy told the Daily News.
The teens are studying at a Brooklyn yeshiva and were walking around the neighborhood to urge Jewish-owned businesses to perform good deeds. They believed they were the targets of the firebomb.
"I'm in complete shock," Rachimi told the New York Post. "In 2015, an explosive bottle was thrown at a Jew in the streets of New York."
Rachimi told the News a responding cop refused to take a report. "He basically said, 'No injuries, nothing happened, let's move on,'" Rachimi said. An NYPD spokesman said he did not have information on this exchange.
Police did ultimately open an investigation, and they now believe that the Jewish students were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Spokesman Sgt. Lee Jones said that someone had gotten into an argument with a manager at Hegazy Food Vendor before the attempted attack.
"It looks like an individual got into some sort of dispute with a manager at a food cart storage facility, came back, and threw a bottle containing a combustible substance," Jones said, adding, "Yeshiva students were in the vicinity as well as the Muslim person who was the manager at the food storage facility."
Jones also disputed the use of the term "firebombing," saying, "It's not being considered as a firebombing. An unidentified individual threw a substance."
Jeff Gilbert, owner of Direct Rush, the courier company that used to occupy the Hegazy Food storefront and still has an awning up there, said friends of his from Israel have been calling him to say his shop is all over Israeli television. Informed of the new theory about the attack, he said it makes sense to him.
"That would not surprise me because [people in the food vendor business] regularly rip each other off," he said. "Something about the story didn't sound right to me. These hysteria mongers go out and they blow things out of proportion when really it's just one crazy going after another."
A message left for Hegazy was not immediately returned, and while taking a reporter's number, a man at the food vendor business claimed Hegazy does not speak English. When asked how Hegazy came to be quoted in multiple newspaper reports, the man set the phone down.