NEW YORK - Someone has been burning down new homes in a New York City neighborhood populated by Bukharian Jews, and police aren't sure whether the victims are being targeted for their religion, their architectural taste, or some other reason.
In the last six weeks, an arsonist has torched six buildings in the same tight-knit section of the Forest Hills neighborhood in eastern Queens, police say. Four of the fires hit homes that were still under construction, including one house that was burned twice.
The arsonist's motive is still a mystery. One theory is that the person is targeting opulent, oversized homes that have been replacing the neighborhood's modest dwellings. Another holds that the arsonist is just disturbed.
At one fire, someone left behind an encrypted note apparently intended to throw off investigators.
Police say they don't have evidence suggesting that the arsons are hate crimes, but the fact that most of the victims have been Bukharian Jews, a group that fled persecution in Central Asia, has the neighborhood on edge.
"I don't know what to think," said Rabbi Zalman Zvulonov, whose future home, still under construction, was torched early Monday morning - the second time it was targeted in three weeks. "There are only Jewish houses burning, so that tells you something. But I couldn't point a finger. I don't know."
Police held a meeting Tuesday at a Jewish community center to solicit information and calm fears.
No one has been injured. In addition to the six homes that were heavily burned, seven others nearby sustained damage from spreading flames.
Bukharian Jews immigrated to New York in the 1980s from Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and throughout Central Asia.
Many have done well. Behind fortresslike fences, luxury cars are parked in the driveways of rebuilt multistory homes that replaced smaller homes.