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US: Man arrested and facing charges over two mosque fires in Minneapolis

The person in custody also allegedly targeted Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's office in December
A man inspects the damage of a Minneapolis mosque after it was set on fire in April 2023 (Cair-Minnesota/Twitter)

A man has been arrested in connection with two arson fires in two mosques in the US city of Minneapolis that occurred last week, as well as the targeting of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar's office. 

Jackie Rahm Little, a 36-year-old man, was arrested and faces state and federal arson charges. According to prosecutors, Little had also allegedly targeted the local district office of Omar, a Muslim congresswoman in Minnesota.

According to the federal complaint, Little's mother told investigators he "extensively harassed a Muslim female" in the past and "has had a fascination with fire from a young age". She said she suspected him in "several unreported arson events”, CBS News reported.

"We welcome the arrest of the arson suspect and express gratitude to law enforcement for their swift action," said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota chapter, which has organised a campaign to raise funds to help rebuild one of the mosques.

"This arrest brings some relief to our community, which has been on edge for the past week," Hussein said.

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"We hope to learn more about the suspect's motivations and any potential accomplices who may have incited these attacks on our houses of worship.”

In late December, Omar's office received messages from an email address that belonged to Little, federal investigators said. The emails allegedly included a photo of a man urinating on a Quran in a toilet. It also included an image of an ear with blood.

On 5 January, Little allegedly went to Omar's office in Minneapolis and spray-painted "500" outside the office door. According to the FBI's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which investigated the case, the “meaning of the ‘500’ text is unclear”.

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On 23 April, surveillance footage showed a man entering Masjid Omar Islamic Centre around 7:15 pm local time.

A few minutes later, a fire erupted in the bathroom of the mosque. The next day, a fire broke out on the third floor of Masjid al-Rahma, which is just three minutes away from the other mosque.

A volunteer security guard and three mosque employees helped evacuate the building, including the 40 children who were in a child care centre that rents space in the building, The Star Tribune reported.

There was substantial damage done to both places of worship but there were no injuries, reports showed. 

According to court records, Little was charged with arson at least once before in Minnesota in 2021, when he allegedly set a gas can on fire on top of a car.

Last month, MEE spoke with staff members working in Omar's office about what it is like to deal with the consistent stream of threats and attacks they receive on a daily basis.

The threats have created a difficult environment, as staff members dealing with the threats are in a constant state of worry. And dedicating significant resources to dealing with the threats makes it more difficult to fulfill their legislative duties.

"Sadly, reporting these threats, corresponding with Capitol Police and other law enforcement, and communicating with prosecutors is an all too frequent occurrence and a part of my regular - sometimes daily - duties," said Connor McNutt, Omar's chief of staff.

"That's not to mention the staff who answer phones throughout the day and have to listen to routinely violent rhetoric or death threats against the Congresswoman." 

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