St. Paul police have increased patrols around local mosques and Islamic community centers after an early-morning break-in at a mosque caused thousands of dollars in damage, according to officials there.
A department spokesman said police are treating the episode as a possible "bias-motivated crime" — as they would any incident targeting a house of worship.
The suspect allegedly scrawled some "rambling" messages on a whiteboard in the imam's office at Darul Iman Masjid — writing "Merry Xmas" and making references to "Jesus," and "God" — that the Council on American-Islamic Relations interpreted as "apparent hate messages."
"There was a white board there and the suspect had written some things on the white board," said Steve Linders, the police spokesman.
In a news release, CAIR said the incident took place just after 7 a.m. at the mosque, which is at 291 McKnight Road, in the Battle Creek-Highwood neighborhood. The suspect, described as a white man in his 40s who was wearing "heavy clothing," was reportedly rummaging through a storage room when he was confronted by a member of the mosque, said CAIR, which first reported on the incident.
The suspect fled before police arrived, holding a whiteboard over his head in order to obscure his face from nearby surveillance cameras, according to Jaylani Hussein, CAIR Minnesota's executive director.
Early estimates on the damage range from $5,000 to $7,000, he said, with the suspect reportedly "breaking" the mosque's "microphone system" and making off with some electronics, including several laptops.
"This is the second incident within a few weeks, the last one being at the Salaam Mosque," said Hussein, referring to a vandalism incident last month at the mosque in northeast Minneapolis. "The biggest thing for us is that it puts our community on edge again and we're concerned about the types of motivations that drives these types of attacks."
He added that classes at the mosque were canceled for the rest of the day.
No arrests had been announced as of Saturday evening.