A Hackensack businessman was caught on video methodically torching his Queens hookah lounge amid the COVID-19 lockdown, authorities said.
Asif Raja, 54, used a fire extinguisher to prop the swinging kitchen door open before pouring a flammable liquid on several tables at his Astoria lounge last August, the FDNY said surveillance video shows.
The arsonist then ignites one of the tables, retrieves a fiery cloth and spreads the flames before closing the kitchen door and turning off the light.
In the final shot, he's seen exiting from outside, opening an umbrella and leaving the establishment – ironically named “Ignited.”
Sprinklers doused the flames and, it turned out, caused most of the damage, FDNY Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro said. No injuries were reported.
Reports of a gas smell was what actually brought firefighters to the Steinway Street restaurant shortly after 10 p.m. Aug. 4, Nigro said. Arson clearly was the cause, he said.
A Strategic Explosive and Arson Response Task Force from the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives helped fire marshals identify and arrest Raja as the culprit, the commissioner said.
He will be prosecuted on federal arson charges in the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
Ignited, which featured DJ music and belly dancers, among other entertainment, apparently was closed when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in the U.S. in March.
“We are extremely grateful that no one was injured during this incident and for the collaboration between all the law enforcement agencies involved in bringing this individual to justice,” Nigro said.
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