Flagstaff PD struggling for answers in alleged hookah lounge hate crime

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The case of anti-Semitic vandalism -- including a spray-painted swastika -- at a Flagstaff hookah lounge appears to be going cold, according to police.

It has been more than two weeks Flagstaff police officers and firefighters responded to the historic Babbitt Building in downtown Flagstaff for a fire at Maktoob Hookah Lounge. Police have not announced any arrest or identified a suspect in the case.

RELATED: Police investigating spray painted swastikas hookah lounge in Flagstaff

In police body camera footage, Aaron Jasim -- the owner of Maktoob Hookah Lounge -- is seen walking up to officers and saying, “I don’t know who did it, but there’s a big-a** swastika and a fire inside my store.”

Papers and articles of clothing were on fire in the middle of the floor when firefighters arrived. There were spray-painted swastikas on the window and the message “Get out" on one of the interior walls.

Police began investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

“We saw no signs of forced entry into the business but there was some damage such as the graffiti, spray paintings, the fire and some property that was burned," Runge said.

Runge says there are two possible motives investigators are considering:

1. Someone broke in to harass the owner, or
2. Someone affiliated with the shop vandalized it for monetary gain.

Jasim told police he was drunk when he left the shop in the early morning and did not know how the vandal got into the lounge.

Investigators received tips stating that Jasim himself was behind the crime, stating similarities between the graffiti on the wall and some of the artwork in the lounge. Police have since said Jasim is not a suspect in the case, but they say he has stopped talking to investigators.

“He has ceased all communication for fear, apparently, of being under arrest, according to what we are hearing thirdhand, though that is not our intent,” Runge said. We do not have probable cause to arrest him.”

Samples from the spray-painted graffiti and a note written by Jasim were sent to the DPS crime lab to determine if the same person made both. The results were inconclusive, according to Runge, meaning the lab could not confirm the same person made both samples, but it could also not rule out that possibility.

About a week after the crime occurred, Jasim went to social media to discount claims he was behind the crime and to declare it was not a hate crime.

The Facebook post reads in part:

"Whether you believe that this was a genuine white supremacist attack, I have reason to believe the truth is far more sinister and complex than anyone could've imagined. (...) This was a calculated business maneuver under the guise of a hate crime. And I think I just figured out who did it. If you're a Flag PD Detective, contact me."

Jasim then sent out a six-page manifesto naming his own suspect on circumstantial evidence. In the manifesto, he says the crime arose out of a personal dispute.

Police looked into Jasim’s claims and determined there was not enough evidence to make an arrest based on his statements.

"If it continues along this path, the case will be closed early due to lack of investigative leads,” said Runge.

© 2017 KPNX-TV


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