The owner of a food mart in Astoria was assaulted and punched in the face on Saturday, and he says he was specifically attacked because he is Muslim.
Police say that Fatima Food Mart owner Sarker Haque was behind the counter of his 21st Stree store at around 12:30 p.m. on Saturday when a customer entered and began browsing through newspapers. "He looks at it two or three minutes, then comes to me and he said, 'Everything free in this store?'" Haque, 52, told DNAinfo. "And I said 'What? No.'"
The customer, identified by police as 55-year-old Piro Kolvani, then began touching items and asking if they were free. Haque finally confronted him. "I say, what do you want, what are you looking for? And he don’t say nothing, he don't answer me," Haque said. That was when Kolvani allegedly punched him in the face: "He just punched me, but then I fall down here, and then I was screaming, ‘what the hell are you doing? What’s wrong with you buddy?’ And again he was ready to punch and then he said 'I'm going to kill Muslims,'" Haque told CBS 2.
Haque says Kolvani continued to punch him until another customer came into the store and intervened; Haque was treated for bleeding and bruising at a local hospital, and Kolvani was arrested and charged with assault. The NYPD is investigating the incident as a potential hate crime, a move the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) called for in a statement this week.
"We call on local and federal authorities to investigate this attack as a hate crime and urge American Muslims to remain vigilant and take extra safety measures,” CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique said. “The lives of American Muslims have been placed in danger by the rising anti-Muslim hysteria in our nation and by the inflammatory rhetoric used by a number of national public figures."
Haque reportedly moved to Astoria from Bangladesh 29 years ago, and has owned the Fatima Food Mart for 16 years.