Fire at N.H. Market Not Considered to Be Hate Crime

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- While the cause of the Sept. 15 fire that destroyed a market that sold Middle Eastern and other ethnic foods remains unknown, federal agents do not believe it was set in reaction to recent anti-American protests and violence abroad, a city arson investigator said Monday.

FBI and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents have found no connection between the 750 Massabesic St. fire and possible local backlash to anti-U.S. protests that began Sept. 11 with attacks on the U.S. embassy in Egypt and the U.S. consulate in Libya where the American ambassador and three other Americans were killed.

"With everything going on in the world right now, they wanted to make sure this wasn't a hate crime against the owner of the Sahara Market....We want to make sure everyone is protected here," Manchester Deputy Fire Marshal Rick Clement said.

"At this point, they don't feel there is any connection," Clement said of the federal investigators' findings.

Omar Abouzaid of Manchester has run Sahara International Market on the first floor of the two-story building for about five years. The store's sign indicated it specialized in Arabic, Pakistani, Indian, European and African food.

The probe into whether the fire was set or was accidental remains active as investigators wait for forensic tests results on several samples they removed from the second-floor of the building. It likely could take at least several weeks for the state forensic laboratory to complete its analysis, Clement said.

Meanwhile, investigators will review a surveillance videotape they just obtained from a nearby building, he added.

Preliminary findings suggest the fire is not linked to a cluster of three arson fires that happened in the area in March 2010, including one set to the same building on March 8, 2010. Two nearby vacant Massabesic Street buildings also were set on fire. All three remain unsolved.

"As of this moment, we don't feel as though they're connected," Clement said.

The three-alarm supermarket blaze reported by a passerby at 9:51 p.m. on Sept. 15 gutted the 750 Massabesic St. building owned by TRB Development Group Inc. of Hooksett.

The fire caused the roof and part of walls to collapse onto the second floor, making the building unsafe to the public and inaccessible to investigators who needed to dig through the ruins to determine how and why the fire started.

Once the second floor was cleared, city fire investigators brought an accelerant detecting dog in that alerted on several spots on the second floor of the building, where the fire is believed to have started, Clement said.

Clement noted, however, that buzz and table saws, compressors, woodworking tools and other machinery that had been stored there could have leaked oil-based substances that seeped into the wood floor over time.

The second floor of the building is used for storage space. Sahara Market operated out of rented space on the first floor. The store was closed when the fire broke out. No one is believed to have been in the building at the time of the fire and there is no evidence of forced entry, Clement said.

He said it could take several weeks before all results of the investigation are available and city and police arson investigators are able to review them and officially determine the fire's cause.

Copyright 2012 - The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester

McClatchy-Tribune News Service