A Lauderdale man was charged with assault Friday in an apparent hate crime last month in which five Somali men were shot at while they were returning to a mosque for Ramadan prayers.
Anthony Sawina, 26, was charged with five counts of second-degree assault in connection with the case. He remains in the Hennepin County jail in lieu of $750,000 bail.
His initial court appearance was set for Monday afternoon.
Just before 2:30 a.m. on June 29, the five Somali men were walking back to their car after playing basketball when they encountered Sawina and a group emerging from a Dinkytown bar, police said. One of the people in Sawina’s group asked one of the victims: “What’s that dress you’re wearing?” according to a criminal complaint filed in Hennepin County District Court.
Authorities say that when the five men, who were all wearing qamis, a traditional Muslim prayer robe, ignored the remark and got into a car to leave, another man in Sawina’s group made a derogatory comment about Muslims.
When one of the victims protested, Sawina reportedly shouted, “What if someone said it? What if?” before allegedly pulling out a gun and firing into the vehicle’s windshield. Two of the men in the vehicle were shot in the leg and were treated at an area hospital, while the other three were uninjured, police said. Sawina fled the scene before police arrived.
Local Muslim leaders decried the shooting, which occurred near the corner of 6th Street and 14th Avenue SE., as part of a rising tide of Islamophobia, and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison later called for a Department of Justice investigation into the incident.
Using surveillance footage from the area and receipts from several nearby bars, police identified several people who had been there that night, one of whom later led them to Sawina, the complaint read. He was arrested in Lauderdale on Thursday with a .380-caliber handgun, matching the caliber of the weapon used in the shooting, according to authorities. A search of his house turned up another .380-caliber gun.
Prosecutors asked for a higher bail for Sawina, arguing that with two previous convictions for carrying a weapon without a permit, he posed “a danger to public safety.”
Staff writer Liz Sawyer contributed to this report.