PORTLAND, Maine —Police are searching for a man suspected of smashing the windows of a local halal grocery with a baseball bat on Christmas Eve.
Around 11 p.m. on Saturday a witness reported that a youthful-looking white male wearing a hooded sweatshirt had broken six large plate windows at the Ahram Halal Market.
There was no evidence of a break-in, said Lt. Robert Martin, and the destruction is being investigated as aggravated criminal mischief, a felony.
The Council On American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has demanded that local authorities treat the incident as a possible hate crime.
“Given the recent spike in anti-Muslim incidents nationwide, it would only be prudent to investigate a possible bias motive for this vandalism,” said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.
Martin said a detective is searching for surveillance video from nearby businesses with the hope of identifying the suspect, who was gone by the time police arrived at the scene. Police do not yet have any insight into what motivated the destruction, which Martin valued at “several thousand dollars.”
In October, the grocery store became the object of ire following reports that the FBI was investigating the owner in connection with suspected welfare fraud.
Investigators claim that Ali Daham used the business to convert food stamps to cash in a scheme that that may have cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
No charges have been brought in the case and a lawyer for Daham denied any wrongdoing.
But Daham no longer owns the grocery, according to Martin, who said he also handles business licensing for the city. “Within two to four weeks of the news articles into the investigation into them,” the grocery had been sold, he said.