Police are investigating a fire at the Mercy Islamic Center in Minneapolis that destroyed three garages on Wednesday, November 3.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN) asked police to investigate whether bias was a motive in the fire; Minneapolis police said a bias motive appears unlikely.
“What I can tell you is that with the political situation going on, we’re taking [the Mercy fire] very seriously,” said Minneapolis spokesman Aaron Rose. “There’s an open and active investigation. At this time, it does not look like it was suspicious or bias based, but we’re definitely exploring all possibilities and taking it very seriously with everything going on.”
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-MN, said the fire is especially concerning because the Israel-Hamas war has raised concerns about potential backlash against Muslim communities across the world. On top of that, he said, the fire occurred on the same day local Muslim leaders and others protested President Joe Biden’s visit to Minnesota, and the same center, which is home to Masjid Al Rahma, was the victim of suspected arson in April.
“If this happened outside of the vacuum, we’d still be concerned but perhaps not as concerned when this happened on a day that the state had a visit from the president,” Jaylani said. “We have a war going on in the Middle East that has created a huge amount of tension.”
Jaylani said the garage fire this week has the community feeling “uneasy,” especially because the cause has not been determined.
CAIR-MN said three garages belonging to the mosque were destroyed in the fire, which also damaged a nearby residential building that belongs to the mosque. The damages exceed $100,000, the group said in a news release.
“We’re just a little concerned based on those previous incidents,” Jaylani said. “The more we know about the incidents, the more likelihood we can plan for what’s coming next.”
He said this is the seventh significant vandalism attack on a mosque in the Twin Cities metro area in 2023, following nine cases of vandalism last year.
Jaylani said he’s concerned about Islamophobia increasing after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, killing and kidnapping Israelis. That prompted Israel to bomb Gaza, killing and displacing Palestinians, a majority Muslim population.
“We’re actually just trying to be very careful and be responsive and responsible and making sure that whoever did this or however this happened, we know it; and based on what we know, we can make a determination on the type of security we need or how do we respond to it,” Jaylani said of the garage fire.
Minneapolis police said the fire does not appear to be suspicious, but that they are investigating all avenues.
Jaylani called Minneapolis police’s response to the fire “very good,” but asked that anyone in the community with information or surveillance footage contact Minneapolis police.
He added that he hopes the community can donate funds to help Mercy Islamic Center cover the cost of the damage, because the center still has expenses from the April fire on the building’s third floor.