A thwarted attack to target Muslim immigrants at a Kansas apartment complex has the Somali community in Minnesota on high alert, mindful of security measures at mosques and other gathering places.
Federal officials charged three members of a Kansas militia group Friday with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction to blow up a complex housing 120 Somali residents in Garden City — a domestic terrorism plot ultimately unraveled by an FBI informant.
The charges prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations to call on state and federal law enforcement agencies to increase protection for mosques and community centers. Jaylani Hussein, executive director for CAIR's Minnesota chapter, said he is reaching out to the FBI to protect Somalis in the state.
"There's tremendous concern immediately," said Hussein.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton issued a statement Saturday applauding authorities for obstructing the "highly disturbing terror plot" in Kansas, which she called "an affront to all Americans."
But Hussein and others said they had begun reviewing security at mosques and community centers well before the Kansas attack, citing a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment over the past year, with reports ranging from school bullying to federal criminal cases.
Last month, a Minneapolis man was charged in federal court, accused of mailing letters threatening to blow up the Tawfiq Islamic Center. And, Hussein said, there has been concern about backlash against the Somali community after a Somali refugee stabbed 10 people at a St. Cloud mall before being killed by an off-duty police officer.
"Everyone is on edge," said Haji Yusuf, a St. Cloud small-business owner and community director of #UniteCloud, a nonprofit that promotes tolerance in central Minnesota. But Yusuf said he has faith in law enforcement to prevent similar plans.
Basim Sabri, the owner of Karmel Mall in Minneapolis, said the shopping center — a major Somali community gathering place that also houses a mosque — had already made significant upgrades to its security in the past couple months. The mall hired additional security staff and purchased three Segways for security guards.
"I don't want to be paranoid, but it's better to be safe than sorry," he said.
Minneapolis police have recently increased patrols near mosques and Somali malls in the Third Precinct, which encompasses south Minneapolis, said spokeswoman Sgt. Catherine Michal. But the patrols began before the Kansas incident at the request of Somali leaders, she said.
The Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis has also stepped up security in recent months, posting staff members at the entrance during prayer times, said Ismail Haji, the former executive director and a member of the mosque. The center is planning to hire a full-time security guard.
But Haji said most community members don't feel there's an imminent threat in Minnesota, and he hopes the thwarted Kansas plot will build trust of federal law enforcement, which has had an often fraught relationship with Muslim communities.
"As a community, we are thankful that law enforcement prevented this tragedy," he said.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648
Mila Koumpilova • 612-673-4781