Police investigate burglaries at several Muslim-owned businesses

COLUMBUS (WCMH) –More than a half dozen Muslim-owned businesses were burglarized in a six-week period, all overnight.

NBC4 looked into whether the stores burglarized are connected or if they were targeted.

The owner of one store on Hilliard Rome Road said two months before his store was burglarized, the same man seen in his surveillance video came into his store begging for cash. He said he and several patrons gave the man money.

Owner Anas Eifallah said he recognizes the man in the surveillance video, as the one who begged at his and several other stores in their shopping center. The surveillance video not only shows the suspect smashing out the front window at 4am, but also grabbing cash from the register as he put his crowbar on the counter.

“The same guy came to other business owners in this shopping center, but he did not target them, he just came after us,” said Eifallah.

The Mediterranean Food Imports & Bakery is one of seven Muslim-owned businesses burglarized within a six week period. Two of those are in Hilliard and five other Muslim-owned businesses are in Columbus. NBC4 asked the Legal Director for the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) if they believe the burglaries are connected.

“We don’t know and that is what we want the police to investigate. Now we have shown pictures – some of these shop owners have pictures, and some of the shop owners have the impression that it may be the same guy, but we are not sure right now whether it is one person or they are connected or not,” Romin Iqbal said.

He said they and the store owners have gotten little feedback from police and just want answers about these seven businesses were burglarized in a short period of time.

“This is the first time we have had crime reports from this many businesses,” Iqbal said.

NBC4 asked the Chief of the Hilliard Division of Police about whether the businesses were targeted because they were Muslim-owned

“We don’t have any information that would lead us to believe that. The man that came in went right to the cash register and took money and left, it would appear to be a crime of opportunity, where the individual was targeting based on the fact that they were familiar with the business,” said Chief Robert Fisher.

Police have pictures of suspects from a couple of the stores, Hilliard said they are investigating the crimes, Columbus police Spokeswoman Denise Alex Bouzounis said,

“The burglaries have been assigned to a single detective and lab results are pending. We have no indication this is a biased based crime nor all the work of a single group or individual,” said Bouzounis.

Reports show one of the stores was burglarized twice, all the stores were hit overnight. Police said if you recognize anyone in the surveillance video or pictures to call either Hilliard police at 614-334-2575 or Columbus Burglary Unit at 614-645-4659.

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