By Theodore Decker
The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Three men are due in court this morning on charges that they tried to burn down a South Side grocery store.
Two appear to be part-owners of the business, investigators said.
Members of the arson squad set up watch at the Frebis Food Center at 1505 Frebis Ave. after Columbus police heard two weeks ago of a plot to burn it down, Battalion Chief Michael A. Fowler said.
Investigators watching the property saw the three men pour an accelerant throughout the business about 1:30 a.m. yesterday, he said.
"They came out the front door, and that's when they were arrested," Fowler said. "Before they lit it, we caught them."
Charged with aggravated arson are Naser Saleh, 45, of 2260 Sandover Rd., Upper Arlington, and Muhammad Alrimawi, 32, and Elvis Bowen, 37. Bowen and Alrimawi live at 5694 Fresno Way on the Far West Side, according to court records.
The men were jailed pending their initial appearances today in Franklin County Municipal Court.
A motive for the arson is part of the investigation, Fowler said. Investigators also intend to ask the suspects about other fires set in recent years.
"We don't get arsonists that burn commercial buildings that often," he said. "So it's just standard procedure" to inquire.
Auditor's records show the Frebis Food Center property is owned by Malaak Properties Ltd. at Saleh's home address. Business records filed with the secretary of state's office list him as the incorporator of the business.
Malaak Properties filed for bankruptcy last fall in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. According to documents filed there, Saleh filed the petition on the eve of a sheriff's sale in hopes of halting the sale.
In his petition, he reported that Malaak's assets and liabilities each were between $500,001 and $1 million.
The petition was dismissed in December when Malaak Properties failed to file required documents, records show.
Investigators seized a car outside the food center yesterday and a pickup at a closed market at 1526 Parsons Ave., which records show also is owned by Malaak Properties. Alrimawi was a part-owner of Frebis Food Center and the closed market, Fowler said.
The Frebis Food Center has been a troubled business for years.
In September, the Columbus Board of Health prohibited the store from selling meat because it was not properly refrigerated. The health department at the time threatened to close the store because of long-standing problems there.
In 2007, the store was involved in an Ohio Department of Natural Resources investigation into the sale of illegally caught fish.
The store once was an IGA, a Super Duper and, in the 1970s, a Kroger.
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