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. Saturday, a witness reported that a youthful-looking white male wearing a hooded sweatshirt had broken six large windows at the Ahram Halal Market on Forest Avenue, according to a police spokesman. There was no evidence of a break-in, said Portland police Lt. Robert Martin, and the destruction is being investigated as aggravated criminal mischief, a felony.
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. Police do not yet have any insight into the motive for the destruction, which Martin said would cost “several thousand dollars” to repair.
On Tuesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, released a statement calling on police to investigate whether anti-Muslim sentiment motivated destruction.
“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 spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
Martin said the vandalism can’t be labeled a hate crime as police don’t yet know what motivated it.
In October, the grocery store became the object of ire after 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 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” about the FBI probe, the grocery was sold, he said.
On Oct. 24, days after the fraud investigation first was reported, the city received an application to change the business’s license. The application, which is still pending, was made in the name of Oday Aaloosi under the business name of HM Grocery LLC.
In a brief phone interview, Oday Aaloosi said he works at the Ahram Halal Market but does not own the grocery.
Daham did not respond to requests for comment.