Leaders of an Islamic center in Bloomington remain concerned about their safety and desperate for justice, more than two months after an explosion destroyed part of their building in a quiet residential neighborhood.
The bombing of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center on a weekend morning in August drew a response from Minnesota and beyond that was overwhelmingly supportive of the mosque. No one was injured in what Gov. Mark Dayton at the time called an “act of terrorism.”
But congregants remain in shock from the blast. Mosque leaders have released videos of the explosion in hopes of generating tips that could lead to an arrest.
“We just need to reach a conclusion,” said Mohamed Omar, executive director of the center. “We just need to be comfortable that justice has been served.”
FBI agents, who said the destruction was caused by an improvised explosive device, or IED, continue to investigate. It is unclear whether they have identified any suspects.
Now congregants also are dealing with the aftermath of a truck bombing Saturday in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, that killed one of their members, Ahmed AbdiKarin Eyow of Bloomington, among more than 300 people. The center plans to hold a community event for his family at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Dar Al Farooq’s leaders say it has been harder to get back to normal than they imagined since the Aug. 5 attack. Several families left and never returned, Omar said. Staffers dialed down on large events and after-school programs for children who take classes at the center.
Omar and the center’s imam, Waleed Meneese, continue to field questions from congregants about security and the investigation.
“People are asking, ‘Are we safe? How can we make sure that this [doesn’t] happen again?’ ” Omar said.
It’s a concern triggered every time he hears about another national tragedy, such as the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., and the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead.
“Even if it doesn’t happen to us, it feels like it’s happening to us,” Omar said.
Weeks after the blast, the FBI announced a $30,000 reward for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of any suspects behind the explosion.
An FBI spokesman said this month that the case remains the top priority of the bureau’s Minneapolis office and that agents are “following every available lead.” There were no security cameras outside the Islamic center at the time of the explosion, making the job even harder for investigators.
Last month, Special Agent in Charge Richard Thornton met with Meneese and Omar to discuss the case and underscore the bureau’s “ongoing commitment to the investigation,” the spokesman said. Omar said the FBI had interviewed several dozen people and had captured video footage from cameras nearby.
Thornton would not say whether they were looking at any suspects, Omar said. “I see the progress that they’re doing, so that makes me less concerned,” he said.
But to many in the center’s community, the lack of an arrest still makes them feel threatened.
“It feels like you’re taking a risk every day when you come in,” said Abdulahi Farah, a volunteer at the center. “Whoever did this is still at large. … We’re still in the shadows of the aftermath.”
The explosion prompted federal authorities to lead a “best practices for physical security” panel in August aimed at helping faith leaders bolster security at places of worship in the Twin Cities.
A mobile security tower was installed by Bloomington police along the driveway leading to the center, and the center is in touch with police who regularly patrol the area.
Omar said they are taking bids for a permanent security system.
“We’re still appalled by it,” Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead said. “We’d love to see it come to some sort of conclusion.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, Omar, Farah and other male congregants slipped off their shoes and entered a room for Dhuhr, or noon prayer.
Moving on, slowly
The prayer room is directly in front of Meneese’s office, which was destroyed in the explosion. It is bare, the walls and floor stripped as crews work on an extensive renovation.
The center is using some of the $98,000 it raised in a GoFundMe campaign toward construction, although it has yet to receive the money, Farah said. He pointed to the white brick wall in front of the office, cracked from the force of the blast.
“There’s two types of damage,” Farah said. “There’s the physical, structural damage, and then there’s a damage to the sense of security of people.”
A large piece of plywood covered a section of the window that shattered in the explosion. Above it was a pink notecard, the words “Prayers and blessings to you” written in pencil.
Amir Malik, the civil rights director for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said the attack gave the center a chance to see support from the “silent majority.”
That support emerged at a community discussion held last month at Atonement Lutheran Church in Bloomington, where Omar and others spoke about the Muslim faith.
The Rev. Siri Strommen, the church’s pastor, said the event felt like the first step in building a relationship with the city’s Muslim community.
“I think the bombing really made me ... realize how important that relationship is,” she said. “We need more of this.”
Some opposition to the center’s activities remains. Malik noted a debate brewing in Brooklyn Park, where the City Council recently approved the conversion of an old church into an Islamic center. One neighbor after another expressed concerns over traffic and parking issues that the new center could bring.
Dar Al Farooq heard similar concerns in the years before the blast. Residents organized as “Friends of Smith Park,” named after the park behind the center, brought a petition to the Bloomington City Council almost exactly a year before the blast. City officials attributed those public concerns to a couple of neighbors. Winstead said they still hear from them.
So does Omar, who said the group and some conservative media outlets have raised suspicions about the attack because no one has yet been arrested. “How bad is it when your neighbors are making fun of you and you’re going through a difficult time?” he asked.
Yet the small group of detractors “doesn’t represent everybody in Bloomington,” Omar said. “We have a lot of support from our neighbors.”
Star Tribune reporter Stephen Montemayor contributed to this story.