Authorities investigating 2 mosque fires in consecutive days in Minneapolis

(KSTP) – Emergency crews responded to fires at two mosques in south Minneapolis since Sunday, and authorities are asking for help identifying a man believed to be involved in one of the fires.

According to the Minneapolis Fire Department, the first fire happened Sunday evening at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center inside the 24 Somali Mall at the corner of 24 Street East and Elliot Avenue South. Mosque security had put out a trash fire in a bathroom before firefighters could arrive.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) said a man went into the mosque with flammable liquid and started the fire. The organization issued a photo of the fire which shows a gas can and some charred debris inside a bathroom stall.

In a statement, CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein says he wants the incident to be investigated as a potential bias-motivated crime.

“If not for the actions of the worshipers, this disturbing incident could have resulted in injuries or even deaths,” Hussein wrote. “We thank fire and law enforcement officials for their response and hope that a motive for this arson attack at a house of worship may be determined. Given past incidents targeting state mosques and Islamic institutions, we urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for this crime.”

Minneapolis police put out a call for help identifying a suspect believed to be involved in Sunday’s fire, releasing the photos below:

These surveillance images show a suspect who police believe started a fire in the bathroom of Masjid Omar Islamic Center inside 24 Somali Mall in south Minneapolis. (Courtesy of Minneapolis Police Department)

On Monday, Minneapolis firefighters responded to another fire near 27th Street East and Bloomington Avenue. The fire department said smoke was showing from the roof of the three-story Mercy Islamic Center.

Crews found a fire on the top floor and evacuated the building; several people, including children, were on the second floor, the fire department said. The fire was extinguished without spreading to other floors, and the building’s structure was not compromised.

No injuries were reported in either fire.

A statement from the Minneapolis police stated that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alchohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) responded with the Minneapolis police on Monday night.

In the statement, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said, “On Sunday, there was a suspicious fire at a mosque located at 912 24 St E.  Whenever there is a potential bias or hate crime, I make it a point to personally meet the victim as soon as possible.  On Monday, shortly after Council Member Jamal Osman and I met with the Imam, CAIR, and staff from Masjid Omar, I was notified that a fire had been reported at another mosque on Bloomington Av and in the same part of the city, so I immediately responded to that scene.”

Chief O’Hara continued, saying, “Again, at this point, we do not know if today’s fire was arson.  We are assuming that it is arson and that both fires are connected until proven otherwise.  We will evaluate any possibility of biased or hate crimes provided under the law, and because this occurred in an occupied place of worship, potential prosecution for a federal offense.”