Detroit dollar store torched

Owner not convinced fire was a hate crime


Detroit Free Press

September 25, 2001

BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

 

Store owner Charlie Suleiman sat in a black sport-utility vehicle Monday morning and watched as federal agents combed through the pile of flame-licked rubble that was once a thriving business on the city's east side.

Suleiman, 37, owner of Dollar Daze Plus II, at Gratiot and Mapleridge near McNichols, said the overnight fire that destroyed his store was devastating, but he will rebuild.

Suleiman, an Arab American, won't even allow dark thoughts that suggest his store was targeted because of his ethnicity. "I'm keeping my fingers crossed. . . . I cannot imagine that someone would do this intentionally because of who I am," Suleiman said. "This is not going to shake me. As long as there is no loss in life, this can all be replaced."

Lt. William Dunn of the Detroit Fire Department said he is not convinced the fire was a hate crime. "I'm not going to assume that that's what happened, but I'm not ruling it out," Dunn said. "I think the investigation is going in another direction, though."

Late Monday afternoon, Detroit Fire Department arson investigators determined that the fire was caused by arson. Dunn said the strong odor of gasoline was present inside the business and a Molotov cocktail -- still intact -- was found outside.

Members from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms helped Detroit officials investigate. About a half-dozen ATF agents crawled through the site Monday, taking pictures and talking to neighboring business owners. Detroit Fire Department arson investigators also used a dog to sniff for accelerants. Vera Fedorak, an ATF spokeswoman, said federal agents collected samples that will be sent to an ATF lab for analysis. She could not say how long it will take before the results are received. "If at any time in our investigation, we determine that the cause of the fire is based on ethnic intimidation or a hate crime, then we will alert the FBI, and they will work jointly with us," Fedorak said.

Suleiman, who is Palestinian, owns four other dollar stores in metro Detroit. He said he has always had an excellent relationship with his customers and did not have to endure any negative comments following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He said he prides himself on the fact that he employs whites, blacks and Arabs to work in his stores. "It's been nothing but good," said Suleiman, who lives in Dearborn. "We haven't had any arguments with customers. Business has stayed the same. Do we have enemies? We don't."

Singed merchandise inside the store remained neatly stocked on the shelves Monday, visible through the broken windows. Part of the roof was caved in from the blaze. The thick smell of smoke and melted plastic lingered in the air as customers and employees stopped by to wish Suleiman well.

Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said he echoes Suleiman's prayers that the fire was not related to ethnicity. "Definitely, business owners in our community and individuals at large have been going through very hard times by being looked at differently," Hamad said. "It has affected all aspects of our lives. "Though we have received tremendous support from other communities, it is not putting an end to some isolated events here and there that can be described as a backlash to this tragedy. "I hope that this is some sort of an accident and has nothing to do with the crisis. I don't think any act of that nature is something healthy for our society, and I see it as an act of evil."

 

Contact SUZETTE HACKNEY at 313-222-6672 or hackney@freepress.com.


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