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Donors seek to repair vandals' damage

Journal photos/KRIS CRAIG
THOUGHTLESS ACTS, THOUGHTFUL GESTURES: Khalil Elmasri, owner of Bahra's Market on Columbus Avenue in Pawtucket, meets Rick Roth in the market yesterday. Roth came to present Elmasri with money colected from many city residents, businesses and organizations to pay to repair store windows that were broken in an attack that is believed to have been motivated by racial animosity.

UNITED: Rick Roth, a local businessman and Amnesty International member, collected more than $500 from city residents and companies after he heard the windows at Bahra's Market, on Columbus Avenue, had been broken in an attack that may have been motivated by anti-Arab fervor.
Journal Staff Writer

PAWTUCKET -- You won't find any followers of the Osama bin Laden at Bahra's Market on Columbus Avenue. And you won't find any supporters of bin Laden's call for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.

What you will find is an affable, hardworking man of Lebanese descent who, after two plate glass windows of his convenience store were broken in what might have been a hate crime, had the kind of experience that sooner or later befalls most Americans: His insurance company said his policy doesn't cover the damage.

In that and other respects, Khalil Elmasri, 36, is a typical American.

ELMASRI CAME to the United States 15 years ago to escape oppression -- the bloody civil war that was tearing apart his homeland.

He learned English, became a U.S. citizen, worked hard and married an American woman.

And yesterday, Elmasri got a dose of the generosity that Americans shower on fellow citizens who suffer adversity.

A man who gave his name only as "Tony," came to the store counter and handed him an envelope containing $50.

Another well-wisher, Rick Roth, an Amnesty International activist who owns the Mirror Image T-shirt company, showed up with a check for $500.

The money was contributed by "Jewish people, Christian people, all kinds of people," Roth told Elmasri

"They are all Americans. That is all that matters to me," Elmasri replied.

ROTH, WHO MOVED his T-shirt company here from Cambridge, Mass., two years ago, launched the impromptu fundraising campaign after he picked up the newspaper and read that Elmasri's convenience store had been vandalized over the weekend.

By yesterday afternoon, Roth had received $10 pledges from 56 companies, organizations and individuals, including designer Morris Nathanson and lawyer Jack Partridge; the Slater Mill Historic Site and the Blackstone Valley Heritage Concert Series; and Liquid Blue, which competes with Roth's T-shirt company, and Woodlawn Auto, which fixes his car.

When he learned that the bill for the broken windows was $1,086, and Elmasri's insurance policy wasn't going to cover it, Roth was undaunted.

"I'll try to raise the whole thing," he said.

Asked why he had gotten involved, he said, "Everyone has to stand up when these things happen. It's just wrong."

Elmasri has owned Bahra's Market about five months. Previously he had been a partner with a brother in running other markets.

Early Saturday morning, somebody lobbed a dozen rocks, breaking two of the store's windows. Neighbors saw a black car peel away, but they didn't get the plates.

THE POLICE are investigating the incident, but not yet classifying it as a hate crime.

Although it seems to fit the pattern of vandalism and threats against Arab business owners in the city, there was no way to be certain about the incident at Elmasri's store without some written or spoken message, said Cmdr. Stephen P. Ormerod, head of the Police Department's patrol division.

"You can't ask a rock its motivation," he said.

But if anybody is picked up in connection with the store vandalism, it's a safe bet one of the first questions investigators will ask is whether Bahra's Market was targeted because the owner is an Arab, Police Chief George L. Kelley III said.

Since the first outbreak of anti-Arab incidents -- such as graffiti scrawled on a Lebanese-owed gasoline station following the attacks last week on the Pentagon and World Trade Center -- police Cmdr. John J. Whiting and Detective Sgt. David Malkasian of the major crimes division have gone around the city asking Arab business owners to report any problems.

At the same time, Kelley said, patrol officers have been alerted to keep an eye on and protect places that might be seen or mistaken for businesses owned by people of Arab descent.

ELMASRI MAKES no secret that he is of Arab descent.

And he doesn't hide that he is a Muslim, or that he came here from Lebanon to make a new life for himself in the United States.

And Elmasri says he was appalled by the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

"I hope they catch these people and just burn themn," he said.

When last week's outbreak of terrorism occurred, Elmasri said, he had a flashback, remembering the violence that destroyed much of his native Lebanon and killed tens of thousands of his countrymen between 1975 and 1991.

Copyright 2001 The Providence Journal Company

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