The pre-dawn arson of an Orangevale dry cleaner, marked by offensive graffiti and a swastika, is the nation's first post-9/11 10th anniversary incident being investigated as a possible federal hate crime, Sacramento FBI spokesman Steve Dupre said Wednesday.
"There's been nothing since (Sunday), which should make us feel good," said Dupre.
The only other potential hate crime being pursued by the FBI was a similar incident in North Carolina on Sept. 9, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front door of a grocery store owned by a Sikh family, Dupre said. The incident also included graffiti: It said "9/11 go home."
The Orangevale blaze, triggered at 3:30 a.m. at the Star Dry Cleaners in the Madison & Main Shopping Center in the 9400 block of Madison Avenue, apparently was started by someone who broke in through the plate-glass window with a crowbar, poured a flammable liquid from a plastic container and ignited it, Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District investigators said.
The graffiti, painted in black on the wall outside the shop, included a swastika and an obscenity directed at Arabs.
One of the owners, Joe Kurt, said he and his sister are "very proud to say we're Arab Christians Antiochian Orthodox we have our icon in the middle of the store and many pictures of the holy Virgin Mary."
The Palestinian immigrants arrived in the United States in the late 1970s and have been in the dry cleaning business in the Sacramento area for more than 30 years, Kurt said.
They bought the Orangevale business a year ago.
"A Jordanian guy used to own it; he bought it from a Korean who bought it from a Syrian," he said.
A pile of soaked, burned clothes and a wrinkled blue tie sat on the pavement outside the dry cleaner, which features a globe and advertises alteration, repair and "eco-friendly" cleaning.
A shaken Kurt said the alarm in his house went off between 3:30 and 4 a.m.
"I'm all in knots. It's so sad after 9/11," he said, as dozens of customers and friends drove up to give him hugs. "We'll have to rebuild."
Sacramento Metro Fire, which responded at 4:06 a.m. with 29 firefighters, put out the blaze, which did about $60,000 in damage, Assistant Chief Scott Cockrum said.
"The sprinklers contained the fire so it wouldn't spread. Without sprinklers, it could have done millions of dollars of damage to the mall."
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department are also investigating.
Stan Lee, the owner of the shopping center that has 20 tenants, called the attack "unbelievable and unacceptable."
"We've never had a problem," Lee said. "They're just small-business people and you've taken away their livelihood Joe works literally day and night."
Facilities manager Tom Ortiz said the strip mall was hit by a wave of vandalism and graffiti July 4.
"They came around tagging and broke the windows and a door at seven businesses," Ortiz said.
That graffiti, which included the words "Crip Killer," didn't seem racially motivated, Ortiz said.
Dupre of the FBI asked anyone with possible knowledge of the crime to call the FBI at (916) 481-9110.