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    Mass. AG Focusing on Hate Crimes

    Investigations spurred by an attack on a local c-store operator.

    Massachusetts State Attorney General Thomas Reilly yesterday focused the force of his office on three teenagers who, on the night after terrorists attacked New York and Washington, allegedly filled a beer bottle with gasoline, lit it with a flaming rag, and threw it at a local convenience store owned by an Arab.

    The gasoline spilled instead of exploding, and the Olde Village Convenience store in Somerset opened as usual the next morning, the Boston Globe reported. More destructive hate crimes followed: three days later, an Arab-American man returned to his Brockton pizza shop to find it decimated by fire, and, early the next morning, a Saudi Arabian man was stabbed while leaving a Back Bay nightclub.

    But the three teenagers convenience store attack -- Craig Jennings, 18; Jeffrey Lizotte, 17; and a 16-year-old high school junior who was with them -- are the first to be prosecuted for an anti-Arab hate crime in the state since the Sept. 11 attacks.

    Reilly's court action prohibits the three teenagers from harassing the store owner, Ashwin Patel, or anyone else on the basis of their religion or ethnic background. A violation could result in new civil charges and a prison sentence of 5-10 years. They already face criminal charges of assault and possession of an infernal machine and burning a building and could receive up to five years in prison.

    "Emotions are running high and people are going to be acting out, but that cannot be used as an excuse to turn on innocent people," Reilly said. "If anyone else is thinking of this kind of thing, this will give them a sense of what we have in store."

    The Somerset attack is one of five crimes that Reilly's office is investigating or monitoring, according to the Globe. Since meeting with representatives from the Muslim community, Reilly's representatives have "heard of dozens and dozens [of hate crimes], and are sure there are many more that have gone unreported," the report said.

    When they were arrested shortly after the attack, one of the group told Somerset Police Chief Jack Smith they wanted to "get back" at Arabs.

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