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US: Two mosque fires lead to hate crime probe in Minneapolis

It is not clear if the fires at both mosques are connected, but the police chief has ordered extra patrolling
Muslim women pray at the US Bank Stadium during Eid al-Adha worship services and festivities on 21 August 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Muslim women pray at the US Bank Stadium during Eid al-Adha services and festivities in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on 21 August 2018 (AFP)

Fires at two Minneapolis mosques within two consecutive days are causing growing concerns within the city's Muslim community, after a separate incident of vandalism earlier in the month. 

This week's first fire took place on Sunday, 23 April, at the Masjid Omar Islamic Centre. Surveillance footage showed a man entering the mosque around 7:15 pm local time. A few minutes later, a fire erupted in the bathroom of the mosque. Authorities believe the person could be connected to Sunday’s fire and "previous acts of vandalism" but no other information was disclosed. 

Worshippers in the mosque helped put out the flames, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Minnesota chapter.

“If not for the actions of the worshippers, this disturbing incident could have resulted in injuries or even deaths," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the council.  

"Given past incidents targeting state mosques and Islamic institutions, we urge law enforcement authorities to investigate a possible bias motive for this crime.”

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The next day fire broke out on the third floor of Masjid Al Rahma, which is just three minutes away from the other mosque. 

According to reports, there has been substantial damage done to both places of worship but there were no injuries. No arrests had been made in either incident as of Wednesday afternoon local time. 

Earlier in the month on 10 April, several windows and the door of Ummatul Islam Mosque in Minneapolis were destroyed. 

"We do not know for sure if Monday’s fire was arson or if both fires are related," Minneapolis police chief Brian O'Hara said in a statement on Tuesday. "However, due to the totality of the circumstances, we will investigate these fires as if they 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 offence,” he added.

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According to O’Hara, additional patrol vehicles and law enforcement resources have been ordered, “some of which will be visible and some of which are not”.

“We will work with our law enforcement and community partners to do everything possible to keep all people safe and free to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of religion,” he said. 

These fires come just weeks after Minneapolis became the first major US city to allow the Muslim call to prayer or “adhan” to be heard over speakers five times a day, year-round. 

The Minneapolis City Council had unanimously agreed to amend the city’s noise ordinance, which had prevented dawn and late evening calls at certain times of the year due to noise restrictions. 

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