$5,000 reward posted in arson of McKees Rocks store

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Amid the charred remains of his torched rug business, Ken Ashtari has emerged determined to not allow prejudice to hinder his success.

"I'm not going to let them stop me," said Mr. Ashtari, an Iranian immigrant who has invested more than 20 years in Linder's, a McKees Rocks rug and fine furniture company. "I'm going to teach them they can't get rid of me."

The words "Iran Terrorist" were spray painted on the exterior wall of his Yunker Street store two days before someone set it ablaze on the morning of Oct. 10, destroying more than 1,000 rugs and pieces of furniture.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives estimates damage and inventory losses of $2 million.

On Monday, the agency said investigators determined the blaze was intentionally set and announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

ATF Special Agent Steven Bartholomew declined to comment on any links between the graffiti and the fire, or how the fire was ignited.

Mr. Ashtari said he doesn't know who targeted him and hasn't had any problems in the community since he joined the staff of Linder's in 1989.

The 51-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Tehran and worked as an architect with his father before moving to the United States in 1984 with the intention of owning a business.

When founder Ed Linder retired eight years ago, Mr. Ashtari bought the company. He said he makes an effort to donate furniture to local churches and is pleased with his reputation.

"It was very amazing to me, very upsetting," he said. "It's sad to see such a thing in the 21st century, especially for a country made of foreigners."

The business is divided into two buildings that sit across from each other on Yunker Street, where the inside of the rug store was destroyed by the fire and the furniture shop was untouched.

He and his employees worked around the clock to set up a rug room in the furniture store and lost about two weeks in sales.

The outpouring of email, cards and customers stopping by to show their support has re-energized him and affirmed his reason for making the region his permanent home.

"I love Pittsburgh," Mr. Ashtari said. "I've been here half my life, and I'm not going away."

The ATF asks anyone with information about the fire to call 1-888-283-3473 or email ATFTips@atf.gov

neigh_west

Taryn Luna: tluna@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1985.


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