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Minnesota governor denounces mosque bombing as ‘dastardly, cowardly’ hate crime

Authorities were investigating an explosion at a Muslim community center Aug. 5 in Bloomington, Minn. Police said there were no injuries from the blast. (Video: Reuters)

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton denounced an explosion that rocked a Minneapolis-area mosque during morning prayers Saturday as a “wretched” hate crime and act of terrorism.

“What a terrible, dastardly, cowardly act was committed,” Dayton said during a tour of the building Sunday, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Anything I can do to put a stop to it, I would gladly do.”

No one was injured in the blast at Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., which took place as a small number of worshipers gathered shortly after 5 a.m. An FBI official said it was caused by an “improvised explosive device.”

Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director, told The Washington Post he was inside the mosque preparing for morning prayers when he felt a “huge explosion” that quickly caused smoke and flames. Omar said another person present later told him he had heard the sound of a window breaking and then a pickup truck fleeing outside.

“The sprinkler system went off and immediately water came down,” Omar said. “We didn’t know what was happening but it was scary.”

Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said 15 to 20 worshipers are typically present for morning prayers. The explosion took place inside the imam’s office, which was next to a prayer area in the mosque, Hussein said. Another “overflow” prayer area behind the imam’s office was also empty, he added.

“If it was Ramadan or one of the busier times, all of the space would be used,” Hussein said.

Rick Thornton, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the investigation, told reporters Saturday afternoon that the blast was caused by an “improvised explosive device” but offered no further details about its composition or possible suspects. Neither the FBI nor the Bloomington Police Department, which initially responded to the explosion, speculated on a motive for the incident.

“At this point, our focus is to determine who and why,” Thornton said at a news conference. “Is it a hate crime? Is it an act of terror?…Again, that’s what the investigation is going to determine.”

The attack was quickly condemned by religious leaders and politicians. Hussein said a “standing opposition group” has regularly protested against the mosque — and sometimes its mere existence — since it opened in 2011.

“Hate is not okay,” Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, told reporters, according to the Star-Tribune. “We need an America where people are safe with their neighbors.”

If the attack was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, it would represent “another in a long list of hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions nationwide in recent months,” CAIR-MN civil rights director Amir Malik said. CAIR said in a report last month that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States nearly doubled in the first half of this year over the same period in 2016. At least 35 anti-mosque acts — including vandalism and arson — were reported during the first three months of this year, the organization has said.

Last week, vandals spray-painted swastikas and hateful graffiti at the Al Magfirah cemetery in Castle Rock Township, just outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area, the Associated Press reported. Other messages at the Muslim cemetery read “666” and “leave you R Dead,” according to photos published by the KSTP News.

Since the morning attack at the mosque, the area has been shut down as an active crime scene, but it has also attracted well-wishers, from neighbors to other members of the faith community.

“The churches around and synagogues … almost all of them came down and showed their support,” Omar said. “We are strong and we don’t want to lose hope because of things that happen.”

CAIR’s Minnesota chapter and the Muslim American Society each offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction of a perpetrator in the Dar Al-Farooq attack. The society urged “the community to be calm and remain safe.”

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said on Twitter that he was “horrified” by the incident.

Ilham Omar, a Somali American state representative who is Muslim, called on Minnesotans to “stand together in opposition to hate.”

“This building is more than a religious symbol,” she said in a statement. “It’s a place where Minnesotans are gathering to create community, to talk to their neighbors, to learn about our world and each other, and to help care for children.”

This post has been updated.