Nasir Hamza, principal of the Tawfiq Academy, walks Minneapolis Police Interim Chief Amelia Huffman and others through the damage at Tawfiq Islamic Center on September 6, 2022. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

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A suspect broke into a south Minneapolis mosque over the weekend, stealing money, damaging 15 doors, and causing $50,000 worth of damages and losses, according to the Minnesota chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.

The burglary at Tawfiq Islamic Center was captured by the mosque’s video surveillance, said CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein. It began around 11:17 p.m. Sunday and lasted until just before midnight. No arrests have been made.

“We don’t know the motive, but obviously they did steal donations and made extensive damage to the mosque,” Jaylani said. 

Jayalani described the suspect as a male in his 20s or 30s, and said he appeared to be well organized. The person entered the mosque through the back gym door and proceeded to break into most, if not all of the mosque’s rooms. The person also broke into and stole money from multiple safes.

It’s too early to say whether bias played a role in the break-in, Jaylani said. 

“Any targeting of a mosque is considered a threat to the community, and we don’t rule that out,” he said.

Damage at Tawfiq Islamic center following a Labor Day weekend break-in. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

CAIR-MN shared photos of the break in on Facebook, showing doors with shattered glass and an office with paper strewn about and a damaged desk flipped onto its side.

Minneapolis police Officer Garret Parten, a department spokesperson, said in a written statement that officers collected evidence from the incident and are investigating. The man captured on the mosque’s cameras is currently the only suspect, Parten said. 

“Preliminary information indicates that theft was the motivation for this burglary,” Parten said. “However, due to the location of the burglary, MPD [Minneapolis Police Department] investigators will evaluate available evidence for indications that this burglary and property damage was motivated by hate or bias.”

A still shot of the suspect for the Labor Day weekend burglary at Tawfiq Islamic Center. Credit: Screenshot courtesy of Minneapolis Police Department

Minneapolis police released several still images of the suspect that were taken from the mosque’s surveillance cameras, and are asking for the public’s help identifying him.

Tawfiq Islamic Center opened its doors in its current location in the Seward neighborhood in 2014. Its worshippers are mostly Oromo. 

Several local Muslim leaders denounced the crime at a press conference held at the mosque Tuesday afternoon. Jaylani called on the FBI to open an investigation into the incident. 

Damage at Tawfiq Islamic center following a Labor Day weekend break-in. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman, said city leaders and law enforcement are taking the situation seriously. Jamal and his family belong to the mosque.

Jamal added that he, Minneapolis Interim Police Chief Amelia Huffman, and Minneapolis  Community Safety Commissioner Cedric Alexander planned to meet about the incident after the press conference. 

Ahmed Mussa, the youth coordinator at Tawfiq Islamic Center, said he was the last to leave the mosque Sunday around 10:45 p.m. and saw a man loitering nearby on a bicycle. Ahmed believes this was the same man who burglarized the mosque.

A still shot of the suspect for the Labor Day weekend burglary at Tawfiq Islamic Center. Credit: Screenshot courtesy of Minneapolis Police Department

“When we looked at the footage, we knew it was him,” Ahmed said. “He was just waiting for someone to leave.”

Congregants who came to the mosque for 5:00 a.m. prayers Monday were the first to discover the break in, Ahmed said.

Surveillance footage of the incident reviewed by Sahan Journal shows a man in a hooded sweatshirt using a large crowbar to break into the mosque. Throughout the footage, he methodically breaks through doors, forces open various donation boxes, and breaks into a safe.

Damage at the executive director’s office at Tawfiq Islamic Center, following a Labor Day weekend break-in. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Several factors in the footage had people like Nasir Hamza, principal of the Tawfiq Academy, questioning whether the incident was just a simple burglary and theft. Nasir questioned why the man trashed the executive director’s office and attempted to break into the imam’s office, which is upstairs in a hard-to-access area. 

“We’ve never seen this guy here,” Nasir said. “How he knows this–how he got up here–is fishy and suspicious. It looks like it’s planned.” 

“That’s why we want the FBI assistance,” Jaylani said. “Because in these situations, we know that they have more resources pertaining to white supremacist groups or people who are inspired by white supremacy.”

The incident is the fourth such vandalism of a mosque in Minnesota this year, Jaylani said, adding that this is the first incident at Tawfiq Islamic Center. 

Last February, two men broke into Masjid Al-Ilhsan in St. Paul and stole a safe. Police later charged both men with burglary

Abdulahi Farah, center, speaks at a news conference with Jaylani Hussein, left, and Ahmed Mussa, right. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

An online donation campaign for Tawfiq Islamic Center is seeking to raise $50,000 for the lost donations and damaged property. Organizers are asking anyone with information about the incident to contact Minneapolis police. 

CAIR-MN and the Islamic Society of Minnesota are also offering a combined $6,000 reward for anyone with information leading to identification of the suspect. 

Minneapolis police asked that anyone who is able to identify the suspect contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or www.CrimeStoppersMN.org. Anyone with information about the suspect’s location is asked to immediately call 911.

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...