Diocesan News

UPDATE: St. Athanasius Hate Crime Suspect Also Faces Federal Arson Charges

The vandal toppled a crucifix in a fenced-in area outside the church and left it on the ground. (Photo: Diocese of Brooklyn)

BENSONHURST — The suspect arrested in the May 13 hate crime vandalism at St. Athanasius Church, Ali Alaheri, is also facing federal charges for allegedly setting a fire at a yeshiva/synagogue and punching a Hasidic man on the street days later.

Alaheri, 29, who lives in Brooklyn, was arrested on May 21 and has been charged with criminal mischief as a hate crime in the St. Athanasius case.

He has also been slapped with a federal charge of arson in connection to a fire deliberately set at a Borough Park yeshiva building that also houses a synagogue.

Police believe Alaheri is the person who knocked down a crucifix — damaging the cross and a statue of Jesus Christ in the process — and set fire to an American flag outside St. Athanasius Church at 6115 Bay Parkway in Bensonhurst two weeks ago.

“I’m glad he’s been caught. That means he’s off the streets,” said Monsignor David Cassato, the pastor of St. Athanasius Church.

Msgr. Cassato said the suspect should be forgiven for his actions but that parishioners will never forget what happened — nor should they.

“He obviously needs mental help. No one in their right mind would do something like this. So for that, you have to forgive. You want him to get the help he needs. But you don’t forgive and forget. What happened caused a lot of hurt,” he said.

The vandalism was condemned by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who issued a statement on May 15 saying he was “disgusted” by the incident.

The NYPD Hate Crimes Unit launched an investigation of the incident. Within hours, police released surveillance video of the man believed to be responsible for the crime and asked anyone with information about the incident to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS.

On May 18, police released a still photo of the suspected vandal and repeated the request for the public’s help in finding him.

Meanwhile, St. Athanasius parishioners have started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise money to repair the crucifix and statue. 

The attacks on the synagogue and the Hasidic man occurred May 19, federal prosecutors said. 

Alaheri was captured on surveillance video igniting garbage bags that he had piled up against the side of Yeshiva Heichal Hatalmud at 1128 36th St. in Borough Park, prosecutors said. Firefighters responded to a fire alarm and extinguished the blaze.

Several hours later, on a Borough Park street, Alaheri walked up to a man who was dressed in traditional Hasidic clothing and repeatedly punched him — an act of violence that was also captured on video, prosecutors said.

“As alleged in the complaint and detention letter, Alaheri deliberately set fire to the sacred home of a yeshiva and synagogue, and viciously attacked a man wearing traditional Hasidic garb, demonstrating a violent hatred that cannot be tolerated,” said Mark Lesko, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.