Anti-Foreigner Vigilantes Arrested
By Rick Hiduk
Two men from New York State recently proved themselves to be no more civil than their perceived enemies when they drove around Sayre and Athens wielding machetes this past weekend and terrorized the owner of the Athens Express convenience store on Main Street in Athens. As they were being arrested on Sunday on charges of attempted homicide, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, ethnic intimidation, and making terrorist threats, the men insisted that they were helping police rid the area of foreigners and prevent them from taking over the country.
Michael Lopez, 34, Barton, NY, and Justin Reese, 19, Lockwood, NY, reportedly first visited the Athens Express on Sept. 3 and made verbal threats against storeowner Syab Habib, leaving the area before police could be summoned. The men returned to the store at about 2:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, threatening the lives of Habib and Farhana Hogue as they swung a machete at the terrified victims. They related that both Lopez and Reese repeatedly stated, “You’re going to die.”
Hogue told police that she stepped in front of Lopez after Habib passed her in an attempt to hold Lopez back. Lopez reportedly told her that the women and children in the store were safe, but Habib was going to be killed. Hogue then positioned herself in the doorway to the back of the store to prevent the men from exiting in that direction. Lopez tried to push her out of the way, but both men were running out the front door as police arrived at the store, having been dispatched to the scene by Bradford County Emergency Operations Command.
Police reported that Lopez was still swinging the machete over his head and making verbal threats as he exited the store and walked toward the gas pumps. In the police report, Lopez’s movements were described as military in manner. When Lopez noticed Habib running from the front door in an attempt to escape, he started walking toward the store owner, still wielding the machete.
Athens borough police officers Nikki Hoffman and Timothy Cahill ordered the two men to the ground, Cahill telling Lopez to drop the weapon, which he eventually did. As the two men were being handcuffed, Hoffman noted that they repeatedly made remarks to the effect that they hate people from Pakistan and foreign countries and that killing Habib was part of their plan to “save the world.” Lopez insisted that their actions were coordinated to help police and that NATO special forces, of which Lopez professed to be a member, would be there shortly to provide backup assistance.
Lopez was advised that he had the right to remain silent, which did not quell his rants. He further stated that people from Pakistan come here to buy all of the stores so they can “take over the country.” He accused Habib of selling women to Americans when they come to the store to buy pizza.
Hoffman related that she was informed by Sayre borough police officer Tom Wilson that the men had been involved in similar behavior in Sayre over the weekend and that they had been seen swinging the machete out their vehicle window as they drove toward Athens on Sunday afternoon. The men were incarcerated in lieu of $100,000 bail each and face a Sept. 13 preliminary hearing.