When Marwan "Eddie" Janlani opened the door to his Capital Carpet store in far Northwest Austin on Sunday morning, hot smoke dusted his face as water spilled out around his feet.
"I basically just panicked and called the police and the Fire Department," said Janlani, who was born and raised in Jerusalem before moving to the United States.
His 6-month-old business had been torched -- intentionally, investigators said -- and it had the smell of charred fabrics and burned plastic.
Investigators think a flammable liquid was used to start the blaze. It caused about $150,000 in smoke and water damage to Janlani's store, which is in a strip mall along the east frontage of U.S. 183, just north of RM 620.
Sprinklers flooded the shop with about 5 inches of water, likely saving the building from burning to the ground. But water also damaged neighboring businesses, including a Chinese restaurant, a smoothie shop and a furniture store.
On Sunday, investigators questioned one man about the fire, but they had made no arrests as of Monday night.
If investigators determine that it was an attack motivated by hate, it would be the third assault against the city's Middle Eastern or Muslim community since the Sept. 11 terrorist hijackings and plane crashes in New York, near Washington and in Pennsylvania.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is assisting the department in its investigation, also is looking into last week's attempted firebombings of a Nation of Islam mosque in East Austin and a Muslim-owned convenience store and gas station in North Austin. No one was injured in either incident, and no arrests have been made.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said the government has opened at least 40 hate crime investigations involving attacks on Muslims and Arabs since Sept. 11, including the shooting death of a Pakistani grocer in Dallas.
Mark Curtin, the ATF resident agent in charge of the Austin area, said no motive has been ruled out.
"I'm sure a lot of people are speculating," he said. "Nothing's off the table."
On Monday, a "Grand Opening" banner still hung above the entrance to Capital Carpet, which remained closed. Neighboring business owners and employees stood outside their doors to watch ATF agents walk in and out of the shop.
"It's just a terrible thing that happened to this guy," said Don Boyd, a salesman at Texas Discount Furniture, which is two doors down from Janlani's store. "This guy's trying to make a go of it -- the American dream. He definitely didn't deserve to have this happen to him."
Though saddened, Janlani said he has resolved to reopen his store in several weeks.
"Things are going to happen sometimes," he said. "My loss is nothing compared to the nation's loss. This will not stop me. I will stay in business."
You may contact Jonathan Osborne at email@example.com or 445-3605.
Contact this site