Image: Fire damaged storefront.
Paul Sakuma  /  AP
The exterior of New York Market in Oakland, Calif., is seen Monday, after an apparent arson fire.
updated 11/30/2005 7:14:45 AM ET 2005-11-30T12:14:45

A man linked to a black Muslim group was among two men who turned themselves in to police Tuesday for their roles in vandalizing a pair of stores for selling alcohol to black patrons, police said.

Investigators said it was too soon to say whether the vandals were connected to Monday’s fire and kidnapping of clerk at the same store ransacked by a gang of black men in suits and bow ties three days earlier.

Yusef Bey IV, 19, and Donald Cunningham, 73, turned themselves in to face charges including robbery, felony vandalism and terrorist threats, Oakland Deputy Police Chief Howard Jordan said. Police obtained warrants charging four others with similar crimes and expected to make arrests.

No arrests have been made in the kidnapping or the fire. Store employee Abdel Hamdan was found safe in the trunk of a car Monday, about 12 hours after the fire, as police sought to get to the bottom of the attacks.

The fire destroyed the store’s merchandise and caused major structural damage to the building, police said.

“We’re very happy that he came back safe,” said Frank Hernen, manager of New York Market. “We don’t want this to go further.”

Racially-motivated demand
Last week, Hamdan’s store and the nearby San Pablo Liquor store were vandalized by about a dozen men who smashed liquor bottles and toppled food racks while demanding that both stores stop selling alcohol to black people, authorities said.

The incident at San Pablo Liquor was caught on surveillance tape, and police said they believe the same men trashed the New York Market.

Suspicion immediately fell on the Nation of Islam, group of black Muslims whose members often wear suits and bow ties. However, Jordan said the suspects are not members of the Nation of Islam. He held out the possibility that they belong to a separate black Muslim group based in Oakland.

In 1993, Muslims affiliated with that separate group, which operates the Your Black Muslim Bakery store chain and whose members also wear suits and bow ties, were involved in a similar incident at a Richmond liquor store, police said. Bey has been linked to that group, police said.

Considered hate crimes
Investigators were looking into the recent vandalism as hate crimes because the store owners are of Middle Eastern background and are Muslims, Jordan said Monday.

“In both incidents, the suspects entered the store and questioned why a Muslim-owned store would sell alcoholic beverages when it is against the Muslim religion,” police said in a statement Monday.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is taking part in the investigation.

Police and city officials urged other liquor merchants and store owners not to purchase firearms or engage in “vigilante” behavior. “I wouldn’t want people to expose themselves to harm,” said Oakland City Council member Desley Brooks.

The owner of Sam’s Liquor Store said he doesn’t sell fortified wine like many small urban markets and wasn’t taking additional precautions.

“I’m not worried that they are going to attack me — my business is very legit,” said owner Sam Wong.

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