Muslim leaders seek public help to stop attacks on Minnesota mosques

Minneapolis police are partnering with the FBI to investigate a possible bias motive

A bathroom with trash in it
The remains of a fire in a bathroom at the 24 Mall mosque on Sunday. Community leaders allege a male suspect set fire to a large container of flammable fluid in the late evening.
Courtesy photo

Updated: April 25, 10:25 a.m.

The Minneapolis Police Department is partnering with the FBI to investigate a possible bias motive behind an arson attempt at a Minneapolis mosque on Sunday evening. Authorities also are investigating a fire at another mosque, less than a mile away, on Monday night.

Sunday’s incident marked the third known attack on a mosque in Minnesota this year, according to CAIR-Minnesota executive director Jaylani Hussein. 

“We don’t want our community to get to the point where they are not coming to the mosques or feeling to the point where they will behave completely differently,” Hussein said. “What we want them to do is to be more vigilant, we want them to increase security. And we want them to realize that we are under threat.” 

Worshippers noticed a fire in a bathroom at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center, located on the second floor of the 24 Mall in south Minneapolis, not long after a masked man entered with a large paper bag, according to video footage. Community leaders allege the paper bag contained a large container filled with flammable liquid. The man was dressed in a black hoodie and light blue jeans. 

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Security cameras show the male suspect entered the mosque at 6:55 p.m. and took his shoes off before heading straight into a multi-stall bathroom. He is seen running out at 7:04 p.m. without the bag, sprinting out of the building barefoot. 

Nearby community members extinguished the fire before it spread. No injuries or damage were reported. 

Ward 6 Councilmember Jamal Osman, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara and other MPD staff toured the mosque and heard concerns from mosque leaders on Monday afternoon. 

O’Hara told them he was taking the mosque incidents seriously. Effective Monday, police supervisors will be responding to service calls originating from places of worship. 

“Anytime there’s an incident near a place of worship, I want to know about it,” O’Hara said. 

The exterior of a community center in the morning.
A view of the Masjid Al Rahma mosque on Bloomington Ave South on Tuesday in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Shortly after making this declaration and about 24 hours after the first fire, another fire was reported at a different mosque only a few minutes away. Just before 7 p.m. on Monday, Minneapolis fire crews responded to reports of a fire at Masjid Al Rahma mosque and community center at 27th Street and Bloomington Avenue.

The three-story building had smoke coming from the roof but no visible fire, according to city officials. The fire was on the third floor. No injuries were reported.

“This is obviously a fire that just happened, the investigation is in its initial stages, but it’s just way too much of coincidence. We are investigating this as if this is an arson, as if this is connected, until proven otherwise,” O’Hara said at the scene Monday night.

“Freedom of religion provides us freedom to practice. We shouldn’t be fearful,” Osman said Monday night. “A lot of people are fearful right now and the community is very concerned, and I really hope that we can do more and we can be better — and I hope they catch this person who is creating all this fear.”

At the meeting Monday afternoon, MPD told leaders they are working with FBI. There have been no arrests, according to MPD officials, and it’s currently an active investigation.

The exterior of a community center in the evening.
The Masjid Al Rahma community center and mosque on Bloomington Avenue where fire crews responded to reports of a fire on Monday evening.
Feven Gerezgiher | MPR News

It’s unclear whether the two fires are connected, but Sunday’s fire is related to a fire at the same mosque last year.

Minneapolis police confirmed the same man was behind an arson attempt at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center mosque last year. Video footage also shows him spray painting “500” on nearby buildings home to Somali businesses, police reported. 

Muslim leaders are worried the man will be back at 24 Mall soon. 

“For you to keep coming back and have two failed attempts, you're not going to be satisfied,” said Roble Muhudin, head of security at 24 Mall. “You know, if you watch all these arsonists, they come back to their victim and keep doing until they're satisfied.” 

A man walks with a mask on his face
Muslim leaders are urging the public to help identify a man suspected to have targeted the 24 Mall mosque on Sunday.
Screenshot via video

Muhudin said up to 700 people could be packed into the building at its busiest times. Reviewing security cameras, he said the alleged arsonist appeared familiar with the building and had likely targeted the mosque. 

“I worry a lot,” said the center’s Imam Abdillahi Mohmud. About 70 worshippers were in the mosque on Sunday evening during the arson attempt. He said people were in a panic around the incident and he feels responsible for his community's safety.

“We will come regardless because this is where we spend when we get out of work, come and pray and have some, you know, spiritual. But the thing is, it's worried that, you know, someone wants to harm this innocent people,” said Faruq Abdi, a student and member of the community. “That's the worry.” 

Anyone who recognizes the individual in these photographs is asked to provide that information through or leave a voicemail at 612-673-5845. Individuals may also share information anonymously by calling CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477). Tips may also be submitted electronically at