Minneapolis mosque arsons suspect appears in federal court

A room with damage from a fire
Damage is seen at Masjid Al Rahma mosque last Tuesday in Minneapolis following a suspected arson. A man suspected of setting the fire has been taken into custody, police said Sunday morning.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated May 1, 1:20 p.m. | Posted April 30, 7:54 a.m.

A man suspected of arson at two Minneapolis mosques made an initial federal court appearance Monday morning.

Jackie Rahm Little, 36, made a brief appearance before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright in St. Paul. He told the court he was unemployed, had no assets and requested a public defender.

Last week, prosecutors charged Little, of Plymouth, with setting a fire at Masjid Al Rahma mosque on April 24, but at the time of charging, Little had not been apprehended.

A second fire was set at Masjid Omar Islamic Center the day before. Both mosques are in Minneapolis. No one was injured in the fires.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

“Houses of worship should be safe places. Setting fire to a sacred facility, where families and children gather, is incredibly inhumane,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said in his statement. “And this level of blatant hatred will not be tolerated in our great city.”

Little, also known as Joel Arthur Tueting, now faces federal arson charges. He was taken into custody Saturday night in Mankato, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Surveillance video from Masjid Al Rahma mosque shows a man entering the building with a bag containing a gasoline can. Soon after, people in the building discovered a fire in a third-floor hallway.

In his statement, O'Hara added, "Based on our investigation, there is no other known, active threat to our Muslim neighbors."

In a statement, Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations, said the group welcomes the arrest of the suspect and is grateful for the swift arrest.

"This arrest brings some relief to our community, which has been on edge for the past week, Hussein said. “We hope to learn more about the suspect's motivations and any potential accomplices who may have incited these attacks on our houses of worship.”

Authorities allege in court documents that in January, Little also spray-painted graffiti on the door of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s district office in Minneapolis and a patrol car assigned to a Somali Minneapolis Police officer. He is also accused of threatening Omar.

In a statement, Omar thanked the Department of Justice, the FBI and local law enforcement for their work in the case.

“Mr. Little is not only responsible for multiple arson attacks against mosques in my district and the vandalism of a Somali officer’s police vehicle, but also targeted my own office with vandalism on at least one occasion.

“We are witnessing an epidemic of hate against the Muslim community and other religious minorities in Minnesota and globally right now. This campaign of terror is designed to keep us fearful and divided. As Muslim-Americans and as Minnesotans, we will not be terrorized. We will continue to stand united against bigotry because love is stronger than hate,” she said.

Little is scheduled to be back in court Thursday for a probable cause and detention hearing. He also faces state charges in the fires.