The attack on a Bloomington Islamic center is “an act of terrorism” and a hate crime, Gov. Mark Dayton declared Sunday during a visit to show solidarity.
“What a terrible, dastardly, cowardly, terrible act this was that was committed,” Dayton said of the explosion early Saturday that broke a window and ignited the imam’s office. About a dozen men were praying nearby, but no one was injured.
“The destruction done to this sacred site is just unthinkable, unforgivable. I hope and pray the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Minnesotans, Dayton said, “accept one another. We support one another. We respect one another. We live together. We work together. We succeed together. We’re not going to let one bad person get in the way of all that.
“Anything I can do to put a stop to it, I would gladly do,” he said to applause. “All I can do in this situation is come here [to] express my solidarity, sympathy and determination.”
Dayton’s comments came after he and a delegation of public officials spent an hour inside the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington with about 100 community members.
Though no one was injured and the damage was contained to one office, the size of the visiting political delegation on a Sunday morning underscored the gravity of the crime.
The group included Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, state Rep. Andrew Carlson, DFL-Bloomington, Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead, state Rep. Ilhan Omar, the first Somali-American elected to the Legislature, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.
There were no updates on the investigation Sunday. A Bloomington police deputy referred calls to the FBI and said he had no new information.
The FBI said Saturday the blast was caused by an “improvised explosive device.” The explosion heavily damaged the imam’s office and sent smoke through the large building. Windows in the office were shattered, either by the blast or by an object thrown through them.
On Sunday, carpets in the office were sodden. Ceiling panels hung loose. Some parts of the carpet had been removed. Ash and puddles of water remained on tables, desks and chairs.
Throughout the morning Sunday, well-wishers came to express support for the center and its members. Bouquets of flowers were left near the broken and boarded window. When visitors walked up to the entrance of the center carrying cards and flowers and offering kind words, they were welcomed and shown inside.
Ellison said he was “heartened” when he drove up and saw supporters carrying signs with hearts and talking about love. “This is the right spirit and there is no better way to condemn the person who would throw a bomb into this mosque than to react in a loving, kind, inclusive way,” he said.
But he said this is not an isolated incident, that hate crimes are up in Minnesota and nationally as documented by law enforcement and watchdog groups.
Shows of support
The center is just south of Ellison’s district in an area represented by GOP U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen, who wasn’t at Sunday’s gathering. On Saturday, just after noon, Paulsen tweeted, “Standing w/ Dar Al-farooq community today. Relieved to hear no one was hurt. I’m confident the investigation will get to the bottom of this.”
Omar said it was beyond sad to think of people getting up at 4 a.m. to come pray while another person arose to hurt those people, “cause destruction that was designed to instill fear and destroy the unity this community has been fighting for.”
The kindness and calls for tolerance that followed the attack are “the Minnesota I know. This is the Minnesota that all of us have come to love,” she said.
Asad Zaman, executive director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, who was with the politicians, said the reward for information leading to the capture of the perpetrator has grown to $24,000.
Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Islamic center, announced the creation of a GoFundMe page aiming to raise $95,000 to repair the damage. Early Sunday evening, the fund had received about a fourth of that.
Omar led Ellison into the building to show him the damage. The imam had arrived late Saturday. “Normally he would be in there and waiting for his prayer,” Omar said. “Today, when I saw the office, the damage, I saw this was an attack on our imam, our spiritual leader.”
The imam attended the private meeting Sunday but left quietly afterward without addressing reporters.
Minnesota law enforcement reported 14 anti-Muslim bias incidents last year, according to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a record high. On Sunday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported that “Islamophobic trolls” had flooded its Facebook page with messages supporting the bombing.
But there was no sign of that Sunday. Erik Stoltenberg, a Minneapolis physician, came to the center after church, carrying his infant son as his 4-year-old daughter twirled next to him in a sparkly red skirt. He walked up to a group of men and said, “You are supported and welcome here.”
Alexis Lohse of St. Paul, her two daughters Emma and Tallulah and her mom, Sharon Lohse of Austin, Texas, held heart signs on the sidewalk at the entrance to the center’s parking lot.
Some passersby waved and honked in support along Park Avenue S.
“A number of my co-workers practice their faith here,” said Alexis Lohse, who wore a T-shirt that read, “your friendly neighborhood atheist.”
“The same law that allows me not to practice allows them to practice,” she said.
At another entrance, Kathryn Sharpe of the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration said she called Mohamed Omar on Saturday to offer help. They agreed she would bring supporters to greet arrivals.
She held a handmade sign that read, “We [heart] you. We stand with you.”
Sharpe described her effort as “a solidarity presence and a safety presence to make people feel safe and secure.”
On break from work, a beaming Osman Jama stepped out of his car and hugged each supporter for “all this outpouring.”
“Please know that it’s felt,” he said. Of the culprit, he said, “It’s a bad apple. That’s how I see it.”
Marilyn and Leslie Sharpe, Kathryn’s parents, explained the roses and daisy-mums they handed out.
“Flowers say, ‘I’m not here as a threat. I’m not going to poke you even though I’ve got a cross around my neck,’ ” Marilyn Sharpe said.
Jama thanked them for coming and standing without shade.
“That’s OK. We stand in the light,” Marilyn said.