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Mosque bombing suspect well known to neighbor, law enforcement in small Illinois town

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The town of Clarence, Ill.
The town of Clarence, Ill. is about 120 miles south of Chicago and has fewer than 100 residents.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

One of three men charged in the Bloomington, Minn. mosque bombing last year held a gun to his neighbor's head and later planted explosives in the same neighbor's shed, according to charges filed in Illinois. 

Michael Hari
Michael Hari
Courtesy from Ford County Sheriff's Office

Michael Hari, 47, is well known to police and folks in this town of 100 or so residents about two hours south of Chicago. 

Hari and Michael McWhorter, 29, and Joe Morris, 22, are  each charged with one count of arson in the pipe bombing at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center on Aug. 5, 2017.

Prosecutors allege McWhorter lit the fuse and threw the bomb into the center, severely damaging the imam's office. None of the five people who gathered for early prayers that morning was injured.   

Hari, the accused ringleader, and McWhorter appeared before a federal judge in Urbana Wednesday. Each waived his right to a preliminary hearing, where they could have challenged the government's case against them. Morris, who is accused of breaking the mosque's window in the August attack, waived his preliminary hearing last week.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Eric Long asked if Hari and McWhorter understood their rights. 

Each answered yes. 

The case now will go to a federal grand jury in Illinois. All three men remain in federal custody, but officials won't disclose where.

The federal case is hardly Hari's first brush with law enforcement. 

Attacks on neighbor

Hari has long associated himself with the Old German Baptist Brethren. Members of the religious group reject many trappings of modern life and dress as the Amish do. 

Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran in his office.
Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran in his office.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

"There are certain elements that live in Ford County that can't get along with anybody," Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran said this week. "I would find Mr. Hari is one of those types."

Doran's said his deputies were called to Clarence last July after Hari allegedly attacked his neighbor during an argument about Hari's dogs running loose in search of food.     Illinois state prosecutors charged Hari with unlawful restraint and battery in that case, which is set to go to trial in April.

  Authorities say he pushed his neighbor Jon O'Neill face down into the trunk of a car and held a plastic Airsoft gun to the back of his neck. 

O'Neill said it wasn't a toy pistol; it was real, and he feared for his life that summer afternoon.  

Clarence, Ill., resident Jon O’Neill.
Clarence, Ill., resident Jon O'Neill said Michael Hari attacked him, and later planted explosives in his shed.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

"I didn't see the gun, but I felt it and it was steel and it was cold," said O'Neill. "And I got two circles on my back from the barrel."  

O'Neill said Hari wouldn't let the incident go. 

Court documents say Hari, McWhorter, and Morris planted explosives in O'Neill's shed in late February, and Hari emailed a phony tip about them to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. 

Federal agents knocked on O'Neill's door that same day.

Jon O’Neill points out where authorities found explosives in his shed.
Jon O'Neill points out where authorities found explosives in his shed.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

  O'Neill said it was all a ham-handed frame-up meant to get him in trouble with federal agents. 

Hope O'Neill, his wife, said their three daughters often play in the shed with other kids from town. And she shudders at the thought of what might have happened.

"I thank God that it rained that day because I know my kids would have been out there."