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'Come see who we are': Community members urge hope after Islamic center blast

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A group of women take part in afternoon prayers.
A group of women take part in afternoon prayers led by Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center executive director Mohamed Omar outside the police tape surrounding the center Saturday in Bloomington.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP

Gov. Mark Dayton arrived at Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center on Sunday in a dark suit, with a rose in hand, accompanied by a delegation of officials. He toured the damaged imam's office and called the bombing a dastardly and cowardly act.  

"This is against the law, to do this kind of hate crime, in Minnesota, or anywhere else in this country, and anything I can do to put a stop to it, I would gladly do," said Dayton.

Dayton also said he came to express solidarity, sympathy and his determination to catch the perpetrator.

"In Minnesota, we accept one another, we support one another, we respect one another," said Dayton. "We live together, we work together, we succeed together. And we're not going to let one bad person get in the way of all that."   

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appears at a news conference.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appears at a news conference at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center on Sunday.
Courtney Pedroza | Star Tribune via AP

Shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday, as first prayers were about to get underway, an explosion was heard from the imam's office. Imam Waleed Meneese wasn't inside. He was apparently running late. 

After the explosion, no injuries were reported. 

By late Saturday, the FBI said an improvised explosive device caused the blast. They collected security footage and sent fragments of the bomb to a lab to be examined.   

A day later, before and after prayers, visitors began to arrive at the center with flowers, cookies and cards. U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said it was the right response. 

"There is no better way to condemn the person who would throw a bomb into this mosque, this house of worship, then to react in a loving, kind, and inclusive way, to say no to what that bomb represents," said Ellison. 

The Islamic center sits on about 10 acres of land near Interstate 494 and Portland Avenue. It's been at that location for six years, after relocating from the Como neighborhood in St. Paul. Of the more than 70 mosques in Minnesota, its considered by many to be the busiest, and by some estimates the largest. Friday prayers are attended by hundreds of men and women. On the weekends, children pack community rooms to study the Quran. Parents learn how to buy homes or secure business loans. Future imams are also trained inside classrooms.

Debris is scattered around a room inside the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center.
Debris is scattered around a room inside the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center on Sunday.
Courtney Pedroza | Star Tribune via AP

The center's executive director, Mohamed Omar, said they also welcome people from the Latino community.

"They come Sundays, they come to play soccer in our fields," said Omar. "Every time you come, day, or night, there is activity going on." 

It's activity he hopes won't stop because of the bombing. 

"This was something that we never imagined," said Omar. "In the heart of Bloomington, that we'd be targeted, in a mosque, endangering many lives. The incident happened, and it left behind some fear in some people, but we're encouraging our community not to have fear, to be hopeful. Hope always prevails."   

Outside the center, and in front of the office window that was bombed, Rowda Asad snapped photos of the broken glass. She's dressed in mostly black, but has a yellow flower tucked in her long headscarf.

"I'm a mother," said Asad. "My kids go to this center. I'm American, my kids are American. I never imagined some American people would hate us that much."    

Minnesota Mosque Explosion
People gather outside of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington on Sunday.
Courtney Pedroza | Star Tribune via AP

She's lived in Minnesota for 25 years. She calls the Islamic center her second home.

"You can feel, how, sorrow, and you know, how hurt I'm feeling," said Asad. "Yesterday I could not come out. I was crying and crying and crying. I couldn't have the guts to come and visit the site yesterday." 

On Sunday, she said she could still smell smoke from the explosion. She felt the wet carpet soaked from the ceiling sprinklers. The IED had sprayed glass across the floor, and left holes in the imam's desk and walls. Asad said whoever the perpetrator is, she forgives the person. 

"When you know us, you see who we are," said Asad. "We don't hate you. We love you. Even the perpetrator, I don't hate him or her. But they have misconception, so come talk to us. Come see who we are."

The Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center plans to hold what it's calling a solidarity event Tuesday night to thank the public for its support while the FBI continues its investigation.