Alarmed by a man who appeared to be taking photos of children at the playground next to the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, leaders at the Bloomington mosque that was targeted in a 2017 bombing say they’re feeling a fresh round of anxiety for their safety.
The incident was reported to Bloomington police, where it remains under investigation. But a mosque official said it’s only the latest in a string of confrontations largely perpetrated by a handful of people who have long criticized the mosque.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Abdulahi Farah, the program director at Dar Al-Farooq and the parent of two students at a charter school adjacent to the mosque.
Farah said that random strangers armed with still and video cameras have come to the mosque since at least December and lingered in the parking lot or walked around the building while taking footage of people coming and going. Sometimes people sit in their cars and film from the driver’s seat, he said.
“They wouldn’t talk to me, they just idle [their engines] with their cameras,” he said.
Farah said the photographer is a man who has acted as spokesman for neighbors with numerous complaints about Dar Al-Farooq.
This week, attorney Larry Frost told Minnesota Public Radio that he was at the Smith Park playground taking photographs of the park, but he denied taking pictures of any children.
Frost said he was working pro bono for a group called Friends of Smith Park.
Frost did not return a phone call Friday.
He once presented a petition to the Bloomington City Council that called on the city to crack down on traffic and parking problems at Dar Al-Farooq resulting from crowds of worshipers during Muslim holidays.
A video shot by a Dar Al-Farooq member shows a man at the playground putting the camera up to his eye and appearing to aim at children playing 10 feet away from him.
He’s also seen circling the playground on a concrete deck that surrounds the play structures.
Farah said school officials were so unnerved by the photographer that they ended recess early and took the students inside.
The charter school has since hired a security guard, and parents have volunteered to go to the school during recess to act as playground monitors.
“It’s like, what do you do? Kids want to have recess. We don’t want to disturb their world because they’re in that innocent period of growing up,” said Farah.
Bloomington Deputy Police Chief Mike Hartley said the investigation continues.
The law allows someone to stand on a public sidewalk and take pictures, but only if it doesn’t amount to harassment.
“It’s not a black-and-white type of thing,” he said.
The Police Department recently set up a portable camera on a pole overlooking the parking lot.
Three men were arrested in 2018 and charged with the firebombing of Dar Al-Farooq. Two of them, Joe Morris and Michael McWhorter, pleaded guilty, while a third, Michael Hari, awaits trial. No one was injured in the bombing.
No one with a video camera showed up at Dar Al-Farooq during prayers on Friday, but about 20 neighbors and friends gathered for their weekly vigil supporting the mosque. Carrying signs that read “Neighbors Together in Solidarity,” people stood on the lawn near the entrance to Dar Al-Farooq and waved at cars of worshipers arriving for the lunchtime prayer.
“We’re just welcoming people and telling them they’re welcome in the United States,” said John Moravec.
The group formed last winter after two men appeared in the Dar Al-Farooq parking lot with video cameras. They wouldn’t identify themselves to mosque leaders, and police were eventually called.
The support group has gone to the mosque on almost every Friday since then, said Moravec.
The playground incident drew more supporters to the mosque this week, including first-time participant Kim Mohan, who identified herself as a Republican.
“It’s not OK, and we should be here standing guard,” said Mohan. “I want to encourage more Republicans and Libertarians to get out here. There really are more people inclined to be kind, I think, than there are people inclined to that kind of nonsense.”