A suspect smashed the front door of Masjid As Sunnah in St. Paul on Friday, May 12, 2023. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

A masked suspect threw a chunk of concrete at Masjid As Sunnah in St. Paul Friday morning several minutes after the last congregant left morning prayers, causing an estimated $10,000 in damages.

The vandalism comes about three weeks after fires were started inside two south Minneapolis mosques in April. St. Paul police said the suspect in the Masjid As Sunnah case had not been arrested as of Friday afternoon, and that the incident is being investigated as a potential hate crime.

The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations posted a YouTube video Friday showing a person walking through the mosque’s parking lot carrying an open umbrella that obscures their hands. The person drops the umbrella once they are close to the main entrance, revealing a large gray-colored object in their hands, and then throws the object at the glass door multiple times. 

A chunk of concrete was later found at the scene. Masjid As-Sunnah is located in a strip mall in the Sun Ray neighborhood of St. Paul.

Masjid As-Sunnah’s imam, Abdullahi Nur, who is known in his congregation as Sheikh Abdulfadli, said he has provided information about the incident to the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office. The office declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.

Abdullahi told Sahan Journal that the suspect threw the object at the mosque’s door four times. The YouTube video of the incident shows three throws before the video abruptly ends; the mosque shared another surveillance video with Sahan Journal that shows the suspect throwing the object four times before leaving with the umbrella obscuring their face.

According to the imam, the last individual in the mosque left about 15 minutes before the suspect approached the door. The suspect left after breaking the door and did not enter the mosque. He said the suspect probably left when the mosque’s security alarm went off.

“It looked like someone prepared to focus on the masjid (mosque),” the imam said, calling the incident an example of hate against Muslims.

YouTube video

He estimates the cost of damages at around $10,000. The door is not operable, and congregants coming to Masjid As Sunnah for Friday prayers will have to use the women’s entrance.

The vandalism did not stop a crowd of more than 100 congregants from attending Friday afternoon Jummah, or Friday prayer. St. Paul Police Deputy Chief Joshua Lego told the congregation that police are working to find and arrest the suspect. 

“We are investigating this crime, and it is more than a broken window,” Lego said. “It is a broken window at a house of worship. The St. Paul Police Department knows that your community is threatened by people who would take that action against you because of your faith.”

Lego called the vandalism a “hate crime” because “this is a faith community.” He added that police don’t know the suspect’s identity. 

Abdulmajid Mohamed, director of Masjid As-Sunnah, said the suspect in the security camera footage did not look familiar to regulars at the mosque. 

“So far we don’t know anything about this person,” Abdulmajid said.

“We urge law enforcement authorities to investigate this incident as a possible hate crime,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR Minnesota, said in a written statement on the organization’s website. “As worshippers gather for Friday prayers, they will be confronted with the distressing sight of their mosque’s front door smashed.  

“This marks the fifth attack on a Minnesota mosque in 2023, contributing to a deeply concerning trend of rising incidents. It is important to note that last month, tragedies were narrowly averted when an arsonist targeted two mosques within two days, causing significant destruction and endangering the lives of over 200 individuals, including 50 children.” 

The suspect in the two Minneapolis cases, Jackie Rahm Little, 36, of Plymouth, was arrested last month and indicted in early May with one count of arson and one count of damage to religious property. Little remains in custody at the Sherburne County jail.

Federal authorities are prosecuting the Minneapolis cases as a hate crime.

The first Minneapolis 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 Masjid Al Rahma. 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.

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...

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...