Two men broke into Masjid Al-Ihsan, a mosque in St. Paul early Sunday morning. No arrests have been made. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Two men broke into a mosque in St. Paul early Sunday morning and stole a safe containing $4,000 in cash, wallets, and a checkbook. 

The St. Paul Police Department is investigating the incident at Masjid Al-Ihsan, according to Sergeant Natalie Davis. No arrests have been made. 

Mosque Executive Director Ahmed Anshur said the first person who came into the mosque’s office at 9 a.m. Sunday saw the safe was missing and called Ahmed and other mosque leaders. They checked security camera footage and saw two men using what appears to be a key to break in through the main entrance. The two men walked out carrying a large safe and other items. Mosque leaders then alerted St. Paul police.  

“I spoke with the congregants about what happened,” Ahmed said. “The reaction I got is that the area is not safe. It’s affecting the movement for congregants to feel comfortable coming to the center, especially during the night time.”

According to St. Paul Police, burglaries in the city have increased by nearly 12 percent from 2016 to 2020. Burglaries in the western part of the city, where the mosque is located, accounted for more than a half of commercial burglaries in St. Paul that occurred in 2020. The mosque is located in St. Paul’s Thomas-Dale neighborhood, where 60 commercial and 105 residential burglaries happened in 2020.

Sahan Journal obtained security camera footage from the mosque’s entrance. In one video, two men enter the mosque shortly after midnight. They say, “Hello?” about four times before proceeding out of frame and through the hallway. Around 15 minutes later, another video shows the two men walking out of the doors with plastic bags and a notebook. In the next video, one man returns after 10 minutes, entering with a key and saying, “Hello?” as he enters. He walks out of frame and returns in the last video at around 12:30 a.m. carrying a safe out the door.

The mosque also has footage of the thieves’ car. Ahmed said members of the congregation saw the same vehicle the suspects used come back to the parking lot later that day. Ahmed said he alerted law enforcement and reported the car’s license plate number.

Mohamed Mursal has been an imam at Masjid Al-Ihsan for 15 years. He said the mosque has now hired a security guard during the nighttime prayers until early morning prayers. Mosque leaders have also asked police to increase patrols in the area.

“It is becoming a whole trend that Islamic centers in Minnesota are vandalized or attacked. If it happens in one mosque, after some time it can happen to another,” Mohamed said. “This is the concern that we have—how to address the safety of Islamic centers in Minnesota, and the safety of places of worship.”

Last April, police chased and arrested a man who ran into Dar Al Farooq, a mosque in Bloomington, during Friday prayers. In August 2020, an imam was attacked on his way to Dar Al Farooq. The mosque’s community has suffered a firebombing in 2017 and harassment from neighbors. Despite a number of attacks in the last decade, the mosque struggled to access a federal security grant for places of worship in 2020.

Ahmed said that Masjid Al-Ihsan also successfully applied for a security grant from the state designated for places of worship, but has not yet received the funds. Ahmed said they had planned to use the grant to upgrade the mosque’s security system. In the meantime, Ahmed said they’re trying to lean on law enforcement.

“The police are slow-moving, and we don’t feel like they’re doing a good job,” he said.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.