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A cafe was firebombed in the Westmount area of Montreal in the early morning of Nov. 18, 2010.John Morstad for the Globe and Mail

The shards of glass lay near an L.A.-designer boutique and a couple of parked BMWs. Another day, another Montreal firebombing - but this one went up-market.

An Italian café and grocer that serves the well-to-do denizens of Westmount was the target of a firebomb Thursday morning, the latest in a string of arson attacks against mainly Italian businesses that have rattled Montreal throughout the summer and fall.

The damage to the popular Cavallaro Westmount was negligible, and police say they believe the hit was unrelated to the Italian-café attacks mixed up with organized crime elsewhere in Montreal.

The real toll may have been on local nerves.

The Westmount spot is, after all, where Premier Jean Charest has been known to pick up take-out on his way home. Until now, the dozens of firebombs that have hit businesses since last year have been scattered in working-class neighbourhoods mostly in north and northeast Montreal, far from the genteel slopes of upper Westmount.

"This hits very close to home," said Westmount Mayor Peter Trent, who shops at Cavallaro. "It shows we're all together on this problem."

The sight of a west-end mainstay, shielded behind orange police tape during the morning rush-hour, did nothing to dispel the impression these days that the city and province are a-swirl in firebombs, mob hits, criminal probes, and allegations of corruption, collusion and cash-stuffed envelopes.

Montreal police even took the unusual step on Thursday to calm the public's jitters after the attack on Westmount's Sherbrooke Street West, where comments like "shocking," "scary," and "I can't believe this is happening in Westmount" were heard from the dog walkers and well-heeled shoppers who stopped by.

"We're aware people are fearful," said Commander Mario Lamothe, head of the Montreal police arson squad.

But he said the attack against Cavallaro was probably linked to a "business conflict" that has touched other family businesses in recent weeks, and not to the spate of Molotov cocktail missives on Italian-owned cafés.

An owner said through the smashed plate-glass that he had no idea why he was targeted. "If I knew, I'd have already been in Allô Police," he said, referring to the now-defunct Quebec crime tabloid. "It's crazy."

Experts say the spate of Italian-café firebombs are the result of a power struggle on the streets, created by the eclipsing of a once-dominant Mafia leadership. But police don't exactly know who's trying to muscle in on the lucrative street turf.

"It looks like intimidation - the first level in the conquest of a piece of territory," Cdr. said in an interview. "When you're a gang, and you want to take control of criminal activities, you have to push others out of the way. You have to intimidate. How? One way is through Molotov cocktails."

The goal is to scare competitors not destroy businesses, he said. "If people really wanted to burn places down, they would take the means to do it. But the goal isn't to destroy, it's to send a message."

Still, not all attacks in Montreal are linked to organized crime, and Cdr. Lamothe listed off an array of other possible motives: fraud, revenge, competition, intimidation, extortion. It seems any reason is good these days to set a business ablaze.

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