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Hindu Temple Firebombed Twice in Eight Days


St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mar. 4, 2003

"The F.B.I. is investigating the second firebomb attack in two weeks on a Hindu temple in west St. Louis County because the incident and the one before it might be hate crimes. 'We have a case open on it,' F.B.I. spokesman Peter Krusing said Monday. 'We can't determine whether it's a hate crime unless we look into it.' The latest attack early Saturday morning caused minor damage to the temple at 725 Weidman Road near Queeny Park. According to police, someone threw a brick through a window, then threw a flaming container into the building, charring the window frame. The damage was discovered about 3:45 a.m. when the building's alarm system was activated. Another bottle containing a flammable liquid was set afire and thrown against the front door of the temple Feb. 23. It charred a section of the door."
"The temple installed video cameras following the first incident. On Saturday, one camera captured the Molotov cocktail being thrown through the window and the resulting fire. No people are visible on the videotape, which was turned over the investigators. Police said the temple received no threats, notes or any acts of graffiti that might be evidence of a hate crime. 'There's no indication this is a hate crime, but you never know,' said St. Louis County police Officer Mason Keller. 'With two incidents in two weeks, there's a good chance it might be. It's certainly very coincidental.' After the latest attack, Keller said police discovered footprints in the snow leading from an empty field up to and away from the window. 'I'm not sure where they lead,' he said. 'We're using whatever we can get for evidence.' The attacks also are being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms [A.T.F.]."
"Jiwan Singla, a past president of the temple, said he is concerned for the safety of the building and the congregation of about 600 families. 'They are sad and they are concerned,' he said. 'They would like to know what's going on. I want to keep them comfortable so they don't feel scared.' He said the temple is looking into additional security measures, including hiring a security guard and installing perimeter fencing, motion-detector lights and more cameras. Several mosques and temples across the country have been vandalized since the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001. Those included arson fires at temples in Flushing, N.Y.; Hamilton, Ontario; and near Warrenville, Ill., outside Chicago. On the same night as the first firebombing here, someone broke the glass front door on the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kan., causing about $700 damage. An F.B.I. spokesman in Kansas City said Monday that the incident was not being investigated as a hate crime."
"Local F.B.I. officials say they are unaware of vandalism or other incidents involving mosques in the St. Louis area. One mosque sits on the same side of Weidman Road less than a mile south of the Hindu temple. Similar attacks have targeted Sikhs. 'It has been a problem,' said Manjit Singh of Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Task Force [S.M.A.R.T.], a Washington-based advocacy group. Fortunately, there has just been a handful of instances. 'Obviously, people have prejudices or biases against people they perceive to be of Middle Eastern descent,' Singh said. Sikhs are frequently misidentified as Arabs or Muslims, particularly because of the Sikh turban, a head covering that is mandatory for men and optional for women."
"Since the attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, the F.B.I. has initiated 414 hate crime investigations involving Muslim, Sikh and Arab-American victims, with 17 people charged federally, according to the F.B.I. Additionally, 129 people have been charged with state and local crimes in connection with those investigations. Numbers of cases involving Hindus were not immediately available. Singla said the congregation of the West County temple enjoyed an excellent relationship with neighbors and received many phone calls and letters of support after both attacks. 'We love people, we respect people, we welcome them,' he said. 'It was shocking to me both times.' Anyone with information is asked to contact the police or the F.B.I."