Feds digging deeper into past of man indicted in Minneapolis mosque arsons

A room with damage from a fire
A burned room on an upper floor of Masjid Al Rahma mosque on April 25 in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Updated 8:10 p.m.

Federal investigators are looking now into the possible motivations of a Plymouth man charged with setting fires at two Minneapolis mosques and are reviewing similar attacks to see if he might be connected, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota said Thursday.

Police arrested 36-year-old Jackie Rahm Little in Mankato over the weekend. He appeared Thursday for a brief arraignment hearing in St. Paul after being indicted by a federal grand jury. Little pleaded not guilty to charges of arson and damage to religious property.

“We respond to attacks on houses of worship at the highest levels and with the utmost urgency,” U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger told reporters, describing the fires Little is accused of setting as "deeply disturbing” and adding that “Islamophobia is serious and must be confronted head-on.”

Three people stand at the front of a room
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger, right, announces the indictment of a Plymouth man suspected of setting fires at two Minneapolis mosques. With him are Assistant U.S. Attorney Manda Sertich and Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Prosecutors say that on April 23, Little started a fire in the bathroom of Masjid Omar Islamic Center. The next day, he was allegedly recorded on surveillance video entering Masjid Al Rahma mosque just before a fire broke out on the third floor.

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Luger told an afternoon press conference that federal prosecutors would address the mental competency question “if and when it’s raised by the defense.” He noted that state and federal laws differ on the matter, but he didn’t elaborate.

At his arraignment, Little also waived a detention hearing, meaning he'll remain jailed. But his attorney, Aaron Morrison, said he may ask the court to address Little's mental competency. Little has been subject previously to mental illness commitment orders in state court.

After voluntarily seeking treatment multiple times, court records show that Little allegedly threatened another patient and threw objects while hospitalized at Mayo Clinic in 2021.

Later that year — after he was provisionally released from treatment — prosecutors charged Little with arson for allegedly setting a fire underneath a car near a Minneapolis apartment building from which he was evicted.

The Minnesota Freedom Fund, a group that seeks to end the cash bail system, posted bond for Little twice, including after he returned to jail for allegedly violating a no-contact order.

In April 2022, a judge found Little competent to be prosecuted on the state arson charge. But in January, another judge found Little incompetent to stand trial following an additional mental health evaluation.

Four days after Little allegedly set the first of two mosque fires, he was discharged from a supportive housing program because of “behavior issues.”

Little is being held in the Sherburne County Jail on the federal charges without an option to post bond. In the days before his arrest, Hennepin County Judge Julia Dayton Klein ordered that he be recommitted for mental health treatment.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said the news of Little’s arrest over the weekend came as a relief.

A man speaks to the press
CAIR Minnesota Executive Director Jaylani Hussein speaks to reporters following the indictment of a Plymouth man suspected of setting fires at two Minneapolis mosques.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

“As soon as this guy was arrested, I just sent a text message to our leaders and I felt the ease coming on, because people were so concerned that they were sending anything that they thought was him, a shadow of him, they were sending to us.”

After the 2017 firebombing of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Muslim leaders sought and received an aggressive prosecution of the three domestic terrorists from Illinois who carried out the attack. The former head of the self-styled militia group is serving a 53-year federal sentence after a jury returned guilty verdicts on hate crimes and explosives charges.

But Hussein says he’s waiting until all the facts are in about Little before commenting on the consequences he should face, if Little is convicted.