The Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center in St. Paul was damaged by suspected arson on Wednesday, May 17, 2023. Credit: Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations

A 42-year-old man has been arrested in the suspected arson of a St. Paul mosque Wednesday morning, according to St. Paul police.

St. Paul police tweeted that the suspect was arrested about 8 p.m. Wednesday for the fire at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center. He was booked into the Ramsey County jail on suspicion of first-degree arson. No charges have been filed as of late Thursday afternoon.

“The investigation is still active and ongoing,” police tweeted.

The fire was the fourth case of vandalism against Twin Cities mosques in four weeks.

A group of Muslim men met with Governor Tim Walz’s office Thursday and asked for $7.5 million to increase security at 150 houses of worship. Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Minnesota), said the funding would not be limited to mosques, and that it would be used for cameras, doors, and lighting.

The meeting was held behind closed doors. The men knelt in prayer in the Capitol after the meeting. Abdulrahim Doyo, an Imam at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center, described the meeting as “positive.”

Walz’s office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

St. Paul police spokesman Sgt. Mike Ernster said authorities found the suspect in Wednesday’s fire after a photo of the suspect was shown to police. The suspect was arrested in downtown St. Paul at 7th and Wall streets.

Police have no information at this point connecting the suspect to the vandalism of a different St. Paul mosque last Friday, Ernster added.

Firefighters arrived at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center about 8:45 a.m. Wednesday and extinguished the fire in about 10 minutes, St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Roy Mokosso said Wednesday.

The building, which was being renovated, was unoccupied at the time and no one was injured.

Mokosso said that because the building was “somewhat vacant” during the remodeling, there have been “numerous” break-ins and reports of previous vandalism, including graffiti, at the mosque. It’s unclear whether those incidents were motivated by religious bias or the building’s vacancy, he added.

It’s also unknown whether the fire is related to a mosque vandalism in St. Paul last week or the fires at two south Minneapolis mosques last month, Mokosso said.

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The security cameras at Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center did not work, Jaylani said, adding that the mosque is ordering new ones. He said it’s too early to determine the cost of damages to the mosque, but that it would most likely be “hundreds of thousands” of dollars. 

“We have another place to worship, but we need this place back,” Abdulrahim Doyo, an Imam at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center, told Sahan Journal Wednesday.

The fire is the sixth incident targeting Minnesota mosques in 2023, according to CAIR-Minnesota.

There have been four widely publicized incidents of vandalism against local mosques:

  • Wednesday’s fire at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center.
  • A masked suspect threw a chunk of concrete at Masjid As Sunnah in St. Paul on Friday, May 12. St. Paul police said Wednesday that no one has been arrested in the case.
  • Jackie Rahm Little of Plymouth allegedly set a fire in the bathroom at Masjid Omar Islamic Center, which is located in 24 Somali Mall, in Minneapolis on the evening of Sunday, April 23.
  • Jackie Rahm Little of Plymouth allegedly set a fire in the third floor hallway of Mercy Islamic Center, which houses Masjid Al Rahma, in Minneapolis on Monday, April 24. Little was indicted with one count of arson and one count of damage to religious property for the Minneapolis fires. He remains in custody at the Sherburne County jail.

Jaylani with CAIR-MN said the other two incidents include:

  • A man used a large object to smash several windows and the main door of Ummatul Islam Mosque in Minneapolis on April 10. Damages were estimated at more than $10,000.
  • Jackie Rahm Little spray painted a door at the 24 Somali Mall in January. Minneapolis police said last month that during their investigation into the April 23 fire, they learned that Little was suspected in prior vandalism at the mall, where Masjid Omar Islamic Center is located.

Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...