Federal authorities are looking into last week’s shooting of two young Muslim men in Minneapolis as a possible hate crime and briefed Muslim community members at a private meeting on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
The inquiry joins a probe by the Minneapolis Police Department into an attack near the University of Minnesota in the early hours of June 29. A still-unidentified assailant opened fire on five young men clad in Muslim prayer robes after two white men approached their car, cursed Islam and flashed a gun. Two of the Muslim men, ages 19 and 22, were wounded.
The FBI investigation began last week, following requests from groups including the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that federal authorities examine whether bias factored into the shooting. Federal laws regarding hate crimes are much more punitive than state laws — up to 10 years in prison for “willfully causing bodily injury” to anyone because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion or national origin.
The June 29 attack happened about 2 a.m. as the men were headed to the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center at 2824 13th Av. S. for overnight prayers during the Muslim holy month Ramadan, according to Jaylani Hussein, director of CAIR’s Minnesota chapter.
The victims told police that as they stopped at a corner near 14th Avenue and 6th Street SE. in Dinkytown, two white men approached their car on foot and tried to start a fight. When the victims drove off, the shooter or shooters fired at least seven shots into the back of the vehicle.
Abdirashid Abdi, a board member at Abubakar As-Saddique, said he was invited to Thursday’s meeting by the U.S. attorney’s office and said he attended to learn what the government was doing about the case.
“There’s a widespread fear among our community, and things have gotten worse: Now we have an actual incident that may be influenced by hate,” Abdi said.
Local officials and members of the Muslim community gathered for a series of discussions this spring about Islamophobia in the aftermath of terror attacks abroad and increasingly harsh rhetoric about Muslims in the presidential campaign.
Officials from the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI declined to comment on Thursday’s meeting, which outlined state and federal hate crime statutes but did not update the specific investigation or evidence. In Minnesota, crimes based on bias are gross misdemeanors.
A Minneapolis police spokesman said Thursday that no arrests have been made in the case.
While the number of victims of anti-religion crimes reported to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has decreased from 31 in 2012 to 15 last year, the number of Muslim victims of such crimes climbed from five in 2012 to 11 last year. Racially motivated crimes remain the biggest share of bias offenses reported to the BCA, with 70 of 131 victims of bias offenses last year.
At a March 24 community meeting at the Hennepin County Public Safety building, FBI special agent in charge Richard Thornton said federal hate-crime charges must arise from provable use of force or the threat of using force against someone because of factors including race, religion or sexuality. He and other officials asked the public to contact authorities if they believe they were the victim of such a crime.
“We will not tolerate and will aggressively deal with any acts of violence against members of our community because of their religious affiliation,” Thornton said in March.