The FBI has joined an investigation into the June attack on a group of Somali-American men on their way to Ramadan prayers, two of whom were wounded when a gunman opened fire on the vehicle they were sitting in, federal authorities confirmed.
Faced with the possibility that the shooting was motivated by anti-Muslim bias, the FBI was brought into the shooting probe, according to recent search warrants filed in the case.
Minneapolis police homicide detectives and an FBI special agent are looking into anti-Islam motives in the shooting of the five men in the early morning hours of June 29, according to a search warrant application filed in Hennepin County District Court. Anthony Sawina, a 26-year-old Lauderdale man with a record of weapons and traffic violations, was arrested three weeks later near his home and charged with the crime. He remains jailed awaiting trial on five counts of second-degree assault.
Investigators are considering the possibility that Sawina, who was with a group of friends leaving a Dinkytown bar after a night out, had singled out the victims because of their religion. Authorities say the men had slipped into traditional Muslim prayer robes, called qamis, after a late-night game of basketball at a nearby outdoor court and were driving back to prayers at a local mosque when they encountered Sawina’s group near the intersection of SE. 6th and 14th avenues.
An FBI spokesman didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.
Sawina’s attorney, Justin Bruntjen, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the possibility of further charges while the case is pending.
Authorities say that several people in Sawina’s group, all of whom were white, began taunting the group and making derogatory remarks about Muslims. When one of the victims protested, law enforcement officials say Sawina told them something to the effect of: “What if I did say something about Muslims, what are you going to do about it?”
Moments later, they said, Sawina fired into the windshield of the men’s SUV, wounding two of them. They both suffered leg injuries and were treated at the nearby University of Minnesota hospital, while the other three were uninjured, police said. Sawina fled before police officers arrived at the scene.
At the time of his arrest, Sawina was carrying a .380-caliber handgun that authorities say matched the caliber of the weapon used in the shooting. Another .380-caliber gun was found inside his home, officials said.
Local Muslim leaders linked the attack to a rise Islamophobia in the Twin Cities and across the country, which they argued was being fed by presidential politics and by stereotyping in the media.