Feds say brothers planned mass Old City fire

Fire department personnel continue to clean up the site of a four-alarm fire that occurred on Sunday on the 200 block of Chestnut Street in Old City, Philadelphia. (Charles Mostoller)

Two brothers who owned businesses in Old City are facing 20 years in jail after being charged with arson for allegedly starting a 2018 fire that displaced hundreds of people.

The fire took place in February 2018, and it left a building severely damaged, causing the demolition of an apartment building at 239 Chestnut St. This fire displaced around 160 residents in the area, PhillyVoice reported.

The brothers are Imad Dawara, 39, from Swarthmore, and Bahaa Dawara, 31, from Woodlyn; American citizens who were born in Syria. They have owned several properties, such as clubs and restaurants, from 2012 to 2018. 

The brothers are facing multiple felony charges, including arson, conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, and more. It was reported that the brothers allegedly lied under oath about their whereabouts during the fire. It was also reported that in an indictment, they outlined a plan involving insurance fraud, for one of their prior businesses, a former Hookah bar. 

The pair was reportedly struggling with their Chestnut Street businesses, known as Barra and B-Side Hookah Bar. Both businesses were joined together on the same property. 

Prosecutors said the brothers had a history of fighting with their landlord, and they reportedly violated a 2015 lease. They did not have the correct permits to keep either business running, and were behind on payments, according to reports. 

Imad Dawara allegedly threatened the landlord, saying that if they were evicted, they’d destroy the property. In November of 2015, the Philadelphia Court of Commons prohibited the brothers from running their business because they did not have the correct permits. 

Allegedly the landlord sent the brothers a notice of intent to terminate their lease. Two years later, in October of 2017, they closed all their operations. But because the brothers didn’t have a lease, they couldn’t sell the space. Allegedly, the brothers owed the landlord $64,000 in overdue payments. They were told to vacate the space on February 2, 2018. 

Iman Dawara allegedly reached out that day to an insurance broker about a policy covering an accidental fire, despite the business being closed. It was reported that the coverage would have included $250,000 for business interruption, and additionally, it included $500,000 for property damage. 

On February 18 at 3:11 a.m., the brothers allegedly started the fire in the basement of the Chestnut Street property. The street was closed for months.  

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