A suspect was arrested on suspicion of arson after a fire last week at a mosque in St. Paul, Minn., at least the fifth such act of vandalism in the state so far this year that has left members of the Muslim community “living in fear,” a state senator said.
Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a news conference that the mosque, the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center, was left “completely burned” after being set on fire on Wednesday.
The building was unoccupied at the time and no injuries were reported, the St. Paul Fire Department said.
The suspect, Said Murekezi, 42, was arrested on Thursday and booked on suspicion of arson, the St. Paul Police Department said.
Mr. Murekezi, who told the police he is Muslim, said he was protesting homelessness, according to charging documents. Mr. Murekezi told the police that if he hadn’t been caught, he would “torch another one” or attack a church, the documents said.
The attack comes after a spate of other acts of vandalism against Islamic houses of worship in Minnesota.
The Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center also had a window smashed three weeks ago, the documents said. On May 12, another mosque in St. Paul was vandalized when someone smashed its doors, Mr. Hussein said. No one has been charged in either of these cases.
In April, Jackie Rahm Little was charged with arson after setting fire to two different mosques in Minneapolis. In one case, he was interrupted in the act, according to court documents. In the other, a mosque representative told investigators that the fire caused tens of thousands of dollars of damage.
The state senator, Zaynab Mohamed, said on Sunday that the Muslim community in Minneapolis was feeling “shaken by these attacks.”
“Especially the people who go to these mosques on a regular basis, they’re living in fear right now,” she said. “These attacks aren’t new. They’ve been happening for a long time. But this year they’re happening more often, and they’re more destructive.”
Hate crimes in the United States increased nearly 12 percent in 2021 compared with 2020, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But that data is incomplete, and experts say that the figures are likely to be underestimates.
Of the 1,590 hate crimes related to religion that were reported, almost 10 percent were anti-Islamic, the bureau said.
Mr. Hussein said in an interview on Sunday that he believed some of the vandalism to be copycat acts and that many mosques were struggling financially to prevent attacks, noting that the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center didn’t have security cameras.
“Our community is feeling vulnerable,” Mr. Hussein said. “We are under-resourced and under attack.”
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