May 10, 2016

Updated(2): Historic Serbian Orthodox Church in New York City Destroyed By Fire; Three Other Serbian Churches Burned Same Day

Posted May 2, 2016 9:09 PM ET; Last updated May 10, 2016 9:07 PM ET

A Serbian newspaper has accused ex-mobster John Alite (right) of starting the fire that gutted this cathedral. 
Photo: Stephen Yang; Spencer Burnett (right)

[From article]
The mystery over the fire that gutted a Christian Orthodox church in Manhattan took the strangest turn yet — when a Serbian newspaper accused former Gambino enforcer John Alite of torching the cathedral, an allegation he called “ridiculous.”
Alite, who was sprung from prison in 2013, said the article was likely planted to inflame long-standing tensions between Albanians and Serbs.
“It’s ridiculous,’’ Alite, an Albanian, told The Post Friday about the claim he’s being investigated for the blaze that engulfed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on West 25th Street last Sunday.
“That’s not what my life is about,’’ he said, insisting he’s changed. “I don’t want to be known as the guy who used to kill people on the street.”
The former hit man, who now works to as a motivattional speaker and a mentor for bullied kids, said he called the FBI and Homeland Security when the article appeared.
[. . .]
“The Serbians’ mission has been to incite another war,” Alite said. “This been going on for a couple months.”
While saying the blaze may have been caused by carelessly stored candles, the FDNY is also probing whether it’s connected to fires the same day at Serbian Orthodox churches in Australia and Russia.

Ex-mobster accused of starting massive cathedral fire
By Joe Tacopino
New York Post
May 7, 2016 | 7:21am

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Photo: Peter Gerber

Updated May 4, 2016 8:39 PM ET
[From article]
“It is strange that four of our (Orthodox Christian) churches burned at the same time on three different continents,” he said. “It’s all symptomatic. We still don’t know if it is some kind of warning, and what kind. And whether someone set them on fire in an organized way.”
Irinej added that the Serbian Orthodox Church, also known as SPC, was “unpleasantly surprised” that Serbia’s top officials failed to immediately contact them after the Cathedral of St. Sava in Manhattan was gutted by a four-alarm fire on Sunday, just hours after Easter services.
Churches in Russia and Australia also caught fire that day, but SPC wasn’t alerted to any of the blazes “until noon on Tuesday,” the patriarch said.
Worried that the incidents could all be connected, Serbian Consul in New York Mirjana Zivkovic on Wednesday said the Serbian Embassy in Washington has decided to reach out to the US State Department, asking for all results of the FDNY’s investigation to be reviewed by the consulate.
[. . .]
“I have received reports from our embassy in New York that the cause of the fire is being investigated,” he said, adding that people shouldn’t “jump to conclusions” about who was responsible “before the truth has been determined.”
Many people in the Christian Orthodox community believe the blazes at St. Sava and in Russia and Australia may have been set in retaliation for Pope Francis’ recent decision to postpone the canonization of Croatian Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, an infamous Nazi supporter.
Francis chose to stop the ceremony from happening last week after the Serbian Orthodox Church and Patriarch Irinej himself urged the pontiff to consider Stepinac’s notorious past.
Orthodox Christians ultimately fear that the churches may have all been set on fire by Stepinac supporters fuming over the pope’s decision.

Serbian church head says string of fires could be a ‘warning’
By Chris Perez
New York Post
May 4, 2016 | 1:49pm

* * *

On May 1, the Annunciation of Our Lady Greek Orthodox Church in Melbourne, Australia, went up in flames.
Photo: ABC News 24
[From article]
FDNY marshals are investigating whether the blaze that gutted a Serbian cathedral in Manhattan is connected to similar infernos at Orthodox churches in Australia and Russia, sources told The Post on Tuesday.
While the investigation is zeroing in on a caretaker who may have left candles burning under flammable furniture at St. Sava on West 25th Street, the sources said a coordinated attack against the Christian Orthodox religion hasn’t been ruled out.
[. . .]
On Monday, members of the Serbian Orthodox community said they feared an international plot targeting their religion amid a dispute between Serbs and Croatian Catholics over the canonization process for Aloysius Cardinal Stepinac, who has been labeled a Nazi supporter while he was archbishop of Zagreb during World War II.
[. . .]
Many believed that the blazes at St. Sava and in Russia and Australia were set by Stepinac supporters who are upset with Pope Francis’ move last week to block the canonization.
The Cathedral of St. Sava burned down Sunday hours after 700 parishioners packed the church for Orthodox Easter.
[. . .]
Mystery still surrounds the fires in Australia and Russia.
In Melbourne, where the 115-year-old Holy Church of Annunciation of Our Lady went up in flames, officials said Tuesday the fire was considered “suspicious,” according to
Causes of the blaze that gutted the Macedonian Orthodox Church of the Resurrection in Sydney and the one that destroyed the Valaam Monastary in northern Russia have not been established, either.

FDNY probes cathedral fire’s connection to overseas infernos
By Shawn Cohen and Chris Perez
New York Post
May 4, 2016 | 1:44am

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Posted May 2, 2016 9:09 PM ET
[From article]
The inferno that gutted a historic Manhattan cathedral is being probed as “suspicious,” fire investigators said Monday.
Flames that engulfed the Serbian Orthodox Cathedral of St. Sava on West 25th Street on Sunday seemed much more intense than a blaze sparked by church candles, FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Michael Gala said.
[. . .]
Firefighters struggled to get inside the church on Sunday because of the ferocity of the four-alarm blaze, officials said.
“We were only committed inside the structure for a few minutes (fighting the flames on Sunday night) before we were overwhelmed (by the fire’s intensity),” Gala said outside the cathedral, which was completely hollowed out by flames.
Crews were still on hand Monday dousing any remaining flames and blasting the structure with cold water, as a precaution against any potential flare-ups.

Easter fire at cathedral is ‘suspicious,’ investigators say
By Jazmin Rosa and David K. Li
New York Post
May 2, 2016 | 10:02am

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