All four corners of the Central Minnesota Islamic Center in St. Cloud have been damaged in November and December, said Mohamoud Mohamed, a spokesman and member of the center’s board.
Vehicles also were vandalized outside the center, located just north of St. Cloud State University on Fourth Avenue S., as well as outside the nearby Islamic Center of St. Cloud.
Police are investigating the broken windows and windshields, which have worried worshipers in the central Minnesota city.
“It is scaring us because there are children, elders, women coming here to practice their faith every day, five times a day,” Mohamed said by phone.
Police Chief William Blair Anderson called the vandalism “disheartening and unsettling.” While he can’t say “with any certainty that these are all related,” Anderson said, he doesn’t think the incidents are a coincidence.
“I don’t believe that much in coincidence,” he said.
The latest problem came Monday evening: Several people inside the Central Minnesota Islamic Center heard a very loud bang, Mohamed said, and rushed over to find a big window destroyed.
Police are investigating the crimes and have increased their presence in the area.
St. Cloud has been marked by incidents of racial and cultural tension. In 2013, leaders of the Islamic Center of St. Cloud withdrew their bid to build a second, larger mosque on the south side of town. While the project’s opponents focused on parking, traffic and the size of the development, a few hostile e-mails were part of the debate.
“Since then, they’ve been facing some increased hostility in the community,” said Lori Saroya, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The vandalism is “very concerning,” Saroya said, partly because of its frequency. “Typically when we see a vandalism case in Minnesota, it’s a one-time issue.
“This is probably the only incident where I’ve seen … repeated incidents.”
The council is working with leaders of the Central Minnesota Islamic Center to raise money for security cameras.
No other houses of worship in the neighborhood have reported vandalism.
“That lack of similar reports provides reasonable grounds to believe hate (or perhaps ignorance, intolerance, fear or all of the above) of Islam is behind the vandalism at or near the Central Minnesota Islamic Center and the Islamic Center of St. Cloud,” wrote the editorial board of the St. Cloud Times.
“In a nation founded upon freedom of religion and in a fast-growing community with an increasingly diverse population,” the board continued, “allowing such actions to go unpunished is not acceptable.”
If those responsible came forward, Mohamed said, the Islamic center would welcome him or her to “sit with us.”
“We are willing to teach our culture to let them know the reality,” he said. “We came from a war-torn country. We love peace. Our faith is a very peaceful faith.”
Mosque leaders had expected other faith communities to reach out, Mohamed said. So far, the biggest support has come from the police, he said.
“It’s damn unsettling to me,” said Anderson, the police chief. “There are a lot of decent people in St. Cloud and they’re as unsettled and disgusted by this as I am.”
The damage is “particularly unnerving” to Anderson, he said, because he was once the victim of a hate crime. He and his wife were living in South St. Paul when someone set their house on fire in the middle of the night, according to a 2012 Star Tribune profile. No one was arrested, but Anderson believes the crime was related to a neo-Nazi group’s demonstrations nearby and because he was in an interracial marriage.
Because of that experience, Anderson relates to the St. Cloud worshipers, he said. “I know exactly how they feel.”