Police have arrested a 22-year-old man suspected of vandalizing a Moorhead mosque by spray painting derogatory terms and hate speech.
The Moorhead man was arrested Tuesday night and remains jailed in connection with the vandalism that was discovered Sunday morning on the exterior of the Moorhead-Fargo Islamic Community Center.
A statement from police said the crimes committed "were enhanced due to hate-related acts" and justify felony-level charges of harassment and second-degree criminal damage to property.
The Clay County Attorney's Office said it expects to file charges and have the suspect in court Thursday morning. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
The mosque's video surveillance recorded images of a suspect wearing a camouflage jacket and a dark ski mask.
Ademola Hammed, the Islamic center's vice president, said Wednesday afternoon that the mosque's members were emotional, shocked and fearful.
"We were disturbed that such an act is aimed at us," Hammed said Wednesday afternoon. "This is the first time this has happened. We have enjoyed peaceful coexistence with our community since the past four years of our existence."
FBI personnel are assisting police in their investigation, said agency spokesman Kevin Smith.
"We are helping with various investigative tools as well as [providing] agents from our Fargo office," Smith said.
Hundreds of community members showed up Monday with brushes, chemicals and power washers and quickly cleaned off the vandalism, which included "Death to Islam," a swastika, a racial slur and other offensive graffiti. A window was also broken.
"We welcome the arrest in this troubling case … and hope the swift apprehension of the alleged perpetrator sends a strong message to others who would contemplate engaging in bias-motivated crimes," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN).
The civil rights group said the vandalism demonstrates the need for Minnesota lawmakers to update hate crime statutes.
"Our state's lawmakers must also show that they take growing hate crimes seriously by passing legislation to update how hate incidents are reported and handled," Hussein said.
State Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, is again sponsoring legislation to let community groups file hate crime reports and to update police training guidelines. The bill also would make graffiti and other acts of property damage eligible to be counted by law enforcement agencies as bias crimes.
The mayors of Fargo and three neighboring cities — West Fargo and Horace in North Dakota, and Dilworth in Minnesota — issued a joint statement of support for the Muslim community.
"Those criminal actions are completely contradictory to the values of tolerance, respect and acceptance we embrace in all of our communities," the statement read. "The vandalism was a heinous act of hate attacking the center during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan."
The mayors went on to say, "We ask the residents of our metro community to keep the members of this mosque in their thoughts as they recover from the impact of hate-filled words and deeds that have desecrated their place of worship."
Multiple GoFundMe pages have together raised tens of thousands of dollars for the mosque.
"Words cannot explain the gratitude that we all have for each of you and the amount of support," wrote Jihan Muhammed, whose campaign had raised more than $34,000 as of midday Wednesday. "Islam is not a religion of hate or killing, it's about love, treating our neighbors with love and care and simply being there for one another and our community has shown their love and support in an unimaginable way."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482