ASTORIA — An Astoria shop owner said a customer yelling that he wanted to "kill Muslims" attacked him.
Sarker Haque, 52, was behind the counter at Fatima Food Mart on 21st Avenue and 23rd Street on Saturday when the suspect — whom police identified as 55-year-old Piro Kolvani — walked into the store at roughly 1 p.m., Haque said.
The man started looking at newspapers, including a copy of the New York Post that featured a photo of one of the suspects in the San Bernardino, Calif. shooting on its cover, according to Haque.
"He looks at it two or three minutes, then comes to me and he said, 'Everything free in this store?'" Haque, who's owned the shop for 16 years, said.
"And I said, 'What? No.'"
Haque says Kolvani then walked around the store, occasionally pointing to items to ask if they were free. The owner came out from behind the counter when the suspect picked up a pot full of hot coffee out of fear he was going to to break it, Haque said.
"He pulled on it like that and said, 'Is the coffee free?'" Haque said.
"I say, what do you want, what are you looking for? And he don’t say nothing, he don't answer me."
After touching more items, Haque said the man punched him in the face, causing him to fall onto an ice cream display case.
The suspect then either proclaimed, "I want to kill Muslims," or "I kill Muslims," before continuing the assault, according to Haque, who is Muslim.
"I thought he'd punch me and then run away, but he didn't," he said.
Haque went behind the counter to try to reach a phone, but said the attacker followed him and continued to throw punches in an assault he estimates lasted seven or eight minutes.
"I was screaming and crying, I say, 'can anybody help me?'" Haque said. "I thought he was going to kill me."
Kolvani then tried to flee the store, but Haque grabbed ahold of his jacket, he said. One of his regular customers then came into the store and was able to keep the suspect from leaving until the police arrived.
Haque, who had a black eye on Monday, said he was bleeding and bruised and went to Mount Sinai Queens Hospital where he was examined and released a few hours later.
The NYPD is investigating the attack as a possible hate crime, a spokesman said. Kolvani was arrested on a misdemeanor assault charge and was issued a desk appearance ticket, police said. It was unclear if he had a lawyer.
Haque, who hails from Bangladesh, has lived in Astoria for nearly three decades with his wife and five children, choosing the area because of its schools and safe reputation, he said.
"Astoria is the best area," he said, adding that while his store was robbed a few years ago, he's never experienced an incident like this one.
In a statement on its website, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said the incident "fit a pattern of increased hate-motivated crimes and bias incidents nationwide" since the attacks in Paris last month.
"The lives of American Muslims have been placed in danger by the rising anti-Muslim hysteria in our nation and by the inflammatory rhetoric used by a number of national public figures," Sadyia Khalique, the group's director of operations, said in a statement.
Haque said the assault has made him "a little bit" more wary for his safety.
"I tell my wife, be careful," he said. "I don't want anybody to be a victim like that."