Left to right: Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara, Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger, and Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty speak about two Minneapolis mosque fires during a news conference on May 4, 2023. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

The suspect in two alleged arson cases at Minneapolis mosques last month has been indicted by a federal grand jury, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announced Thursday.

Luger called the cases a “deeply disturbing matter,” and said his office, Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, and other local law enforcement met with the fire victims Thursday morning.

“The freedom to worship is sacrosanct,” Luger said, adding that authorities are committed to investigating such cases. “…There’s not much more we can say about the investigation.”

A federal grand jury indicted Jackie Rahm Little, 36, of Plymouth, on Thursday with one count of arson and one count of damage to religious property. Authorities initially charged him late last week via criminal complaint, and he was arrested in Mankato on Saturday, April 29.

Luger called the damage to religious properties both a civil rights and hate crime charge. Luger added that his office is looking into “additional civil rights charges” against Little, as well as other incidents that he’s allegedly involved in. Little’s motivation for allegedly starting the fires at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center and Masjid Al Rahma mosques in south Minneapolis is unknown and under investigation, he added. 

The indictment against Little, which was released Thursday, did not address a possible motive or provide other details about the case.Luger’s office hosted a news conference at 1:30 p.m. Thursday with Moriarty, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Michael Krause, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara, and Jeffery Reed, special agent in charge at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives Special. 

A suspect allegedly attempted to start a fire in the bathroom of Masjid Omar Islamic Center at 24 Somali Mall on the evening of Sunday, April 23, 2023. Credit: Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota

“There was a lot of intense work going on every day since the first fire happened,” O’Hara said, adding that police worked with federal authorities “around the clock” to investigate the fires and find Little.

The first fire occurred on the evening of Sunday, April 23 in the bathroom at Masjid Omar Islamic Center, which is located in 24 Somali Mall. Bystanders put out the fire before it could cause serious damage and followed a man out of the building.

The next evening, a fire broke out in the third floor hallway of Mercy Islamic Center, which houses the Masjid Al Rahma mosque. About 100 people were inside the building at the time, including approximately 50 children in a daycare located in the basement. A security guard noticed smoke in the second floor hallway and quickly evacuated the building.

The fire at Mercy Islamic Center caused an estimated $50,000 worth of damages. 

The fires drew widespread condemnation throughout the Twin Cities region, including from Minnesota lawmakers and public officials at the state Capitol last week

Little also allegedly spray painted the front door of the Minneapolis office for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, according to federal charges filed against him. 

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Affairs, said Little’s arrest and charges are welcome news to local Muslim communities. Throughout the past week, Jaylani said, people have been messaging him and asking him whether it’s safe to attend their mosque.

“As soon as he got arrested, I just felt the relief in our community,” said Jaylani, who attended Thursday’s news conference. 

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...