A St. Paul mosque was heavily damaged by fire in a suspected arson Wednesday, in what would be the sixth attack on Muslim houses of worship so far in 2023. The fires are bringing increasing calls for accountability and additional security for mosques.

St. Paul Fire Department officials said Wednesday morning that they suspect an arsonist set fire to the Tawhid Islamic Center of Minnesota near 430 Dale St. N. Law enforcement say the fire started about 8:48 a.m., charring the building's side and melting plaster. The building was heavily damaged but unoccupied, and no injuries were reported.

"We were sorry to hear that the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center was on fire this morning. Saint Paul police investigators are working with Saint Paul fire and ATF investigators to determine how the fire started and to find who is responsible," St. Paul Police Department Sgt. Mike Ernster said in a written statement. "We're glad no one was physically hurt, however, we know the importance of this center and we will be investigating this incident to the fullest extent."

St. Paul Deputy Fire Chief Roy Mokosso did not say where officials believe the fire started, but he noted that flames could be seen coming from the east side of the building, which sustained the most damage.

Costs to repair all the damage is estimated to total more than $250,000, according to a fundraiser posted Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, people prayed on the grass outside the mosque, which had been under renovation the past four months. Onlookers from a nearby child-care center watched as police and firefighters ducked under yellow tape to enter the building. Some stepped across broken glass and torn insulation as a burnt smell wafted in the breeze.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director for the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), said he and others on the council have not seen this many incidents happen in such a short time frame, in Minnesota or in other states.

Hussein is coordinating with police about a potential suspect in the fire who was captured on a security camera. Hussein has asked mosques across the state to increase their security and for police to bolster patrols around them.

"We're on edge, and we need the public's help once the suspect is defined to help capture this individual," Hussein said. "This incident will not impact our faith and our resiliency in the community."

Many residents gathered to support Hussein and members of the Muslim community, including other faith leaders and legislators including Rep. María Isa Pérez-Vega, who said the fires amount to terrorism.

Rep. Samakab Hussein, who said he grew up in the area, called the situation unacceptable. Hussein said he would push legislators to hold the guilty accountable.

"I am frustrated that sacred spaces Minnesotans use to practice religion are being violently attacked. We simply cannot normalize these incidents of hate," Hussein said in a tweet. "I urge all Minnesotans to come together in solidarity to combat these atrocious actions and uplift our Muslim community."

Supporters said state and federal dollars could prevent these crimes by helping to pay for security cameras and better lighting.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said the city would be among the first to invest in such security, adding that he spoke with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Gov. Tim Walz and White House officials about the mosque fire.

"We can't just say we don't accept this, we have to demonstrate that we don't," Carter said. "I want to say right now the city of St. Paul is going to be first in to help make sure to invest and provide resources to help make sure we have security cameras at every mosque in our city."

Carter organized an emergency meeting Wednesday night with imams and city leadership to discuss the attack and the city's response, a spokesperson said.

Walz also condemned the mosque attacks, calling for solidarity.

"In the last several months, Minnesota's Muslim community has experienced several attacks motivated by hate," Walz' tweet said. "In Minnesota, we have a zero tolerance policy toward violence. We continue to stand with our Muslim friends and neighbors."

The fire comes three weeks after Minnesota's Muslim community was shaken by repeat instances of vandalism and two Minneapolis mosques being set on fire in consecutive days.

A man holding a mask and carrying an umbrella vandalized a St. Paul mosque May 12, throwing a large rock three times at the building's front door. CAIR officials asked that law enforcement investigate the incident to see if bias factored into the crime.

Around 7 p.m. April 23, prosecutors say Jackie Rahm Little set a fire in the bathroom of the Masjid Omar Islamic Center, located in the 24 Somali Mall at 912 24th St. E. An employee interrupted the man as he was burning a cardboard box and chased him out of the mosque, according to court records.

Another mosque fire was set one day later less than a mile away, allegedly again by Little on the third floor of the Masjid Al Rahma mosque at 2647 Bloomington Av. S. The fire caused significant damage before it was extinguished, and worshipers along with 40 children from a private day care in the basement were evacuated.

Investigators found seven metal olive oil cans and what they believe to be a melted red plastic gas canister. The fire was put out before it could spread to the lower levels. Community leaders estimated the damages could total about $50,000.

More than a dozen imams and other leaders spoke out at a press conference at Masjid Al Rahma to condemn the attacks they suspect were driven by Islamophobia.

Little was charged with arson in both state and federal court, in connection with the second fire at Masjid Al Rahma. He was also charged with a federal hate crime for burning religious property. Little has been linked to other vandalism at mosques and of vandalizing the district office of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Little is believed to have vandalized the Masjid Omar Islamic Center a previous time in January, Hussein said.

On April 10, video showed a man breaking the windows and the main door of the Umatul Islam Mosque, at 3015 2nd Av. S. in Minneapolis. Police found a large red metal object inside but closed the investigation for lack of evidence.

Wednesday's blaze added perspective for Mohammed Dukuly, an imam at the Masjid Al-Ansar community center in Brooklyn Center. He said someone tried to start a fire in his mosque bathroom last week.

Dukuly said the mosque attacks represent an assault on everyone. Muslim residents are crucial for Minnesota communities, he said.

"We pay taxes. We are not a liability. We are doctors, we are professors at universities, we are teachers, we take care of nursing homes," Dukuly said. "Don't you see that we are not a liability?"