St. Paul police arrest man on suspicion of arson in mosque fire

Damage is seen outside the mosque
Damage from a fire is visible at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Regina Medina | MPR News

St. Paul police on Thursday announced an arrest in connection with a fire that damaged a mosque in the city the day before.

Police said investigators, aided by surveillance imagery, arrested a 42-year-old man just before 8 p.m. Wednesday on suspicion of 1st-degree arson. He’s suspected of starting a fire at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center on Wednesday morning.

The man has not yet been charged, and authorities said the investigation is still “active and ongoing.” If it is determined to be arson, it would be the sixth act of vandalism against a Minnesota mosque so far this year.

Police did not say Thursday whether they believe religious or racial bias played any role in the fire. Federal authorities are also reportedly reviewing the case, with an eye toward federal penalties for attacks on faith-related facilities.

Wednesday’s fire badly damaged the building at 430 Dale St., just north of Interstate 94. It’s been the home of the region’s largest Oromo Islamic congregation for more than a decade. The mosque was unoccupied and under renovation at the time of the fire.

Police said Wednesday that officers had previously been called to the building on reports of vandalism in what appeared to be a vacant building.

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