Minnesota officials visit Islamic center hit with explosive attack

Elected officials, including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and state Rep. Ilhan Omar, visited the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Sunday, the day after it was attacked with an explosive.

The center was attacked early on Saturday as people gathered for morning prayers. No one sustained injuries, but the attack broke a window and damaged the imam’s office inside the center.

Police and fire departments were called onto the scene at 5:05 a.m. local time and found a portion of the center damaged from the blast. In a press conference Saturday, FBI special agent Rick Thornton said an “improvised explosive device” was used in the attack.

Investigators are still searching for a suspect and determining motivation for the attack, which has not yet been officially designated a hate crime or act of terrorism.

The center, which primarily serves Somali residents, is located near Minneapolis and St. Paul, which in recent years have hosted the largest Somali population in the United States. In 2013, Somalis constituted the second-largest foreign-born population in Minnesota, and in 2015, more Somali refugees went to Minnesota than any other state.

“Every place of worship, for all Minnesotans of every faith and culture, must be sacred and safe,” Dayton said in a statement. On Sunday, he called the attack, “A criminal act of terrorism.”

The White House has not released an official statement on the attack. The Department of Homeland Security responded to the attack with a statement Saturday, saying, “The Department of Homeland Security fully supports the rights of all to freely and safely worship the faith of their choosing and we vigorously condemn such attacks on any religious institution. We are thankful that there were no injuries, but that does not diminish the serious nature of this act.”

In May, a white supremacist killed two men after they defended two Muslim women at whom he verbally assaulted. The Muslim community was also shook in June, when a motorist left his vehicle to assault and kill 17-year-old Nabra Hassanen as she was walking with friends. Hassanen’s murder was not investigated as a hate crime, though the memorial in her honor was later set on fire.

A report by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) found that between 2014 and 2016, hate crimes against Muslims increased by 584 percent. CAIR has also recorded 134 hate crimes between January and June of this year and reports that 2017 is pacing to become the worst year for hate crimes against Muslims since the organization began collecting such data in 2013.

“In the larger context, this unfortunately has become rather common,” Corey Saylor, Director of the CAIR department monitoring Islamophobia, told the NewsHour Weekend. CAIR advises mosques to increase security by using video cameras and clearing out bushes where people could hide. They advise individuals not to live in fear. “Go about your life but be vigilant,” Saylor said.

He also said asked for President Donald Trump, who has expressed anti-Muslim and Islamophobic sentiments and talked about closing mosques in the United States as well as establishing a registry of Muslims, to denounce the act.

“It’s incumbent on the Trump administration to send an extremely clear message that Americans turning on other Americans is totally unacceptable,” Saylor said.

The bombing follows other recent acts of discrimination, harassment or violence that have targeted Muslims in Minnesota. The Star Tribune reports that an unprecedented number of “anti-Muslim incidents” took place in 2016 — 14, with nearly half inflicting physical harm. The Star Tribune also reports that mosques in Minnesota have experienced decreased attendance in recent months, with some Muslims praying at home out of fear for their safety.

In a survey from the Pew Research Center, 49 percent of Muslims reported experiencing some form of discrimination. Three-quarters of American Muslims said there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in the U.S., while half said being Muslim in the U.S. has become more difficult.

Both the Muslim American Society of Minnesota and The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations have offered $10,000 rewards “for information leading to to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who reportedly bombed” the center on Saturday.

CAIR-Minnesota Civil Rights Director Amir Malik told the NewsHour Weekend after the attack, he saw people, including representatives from churches and synagogues, holding signs that read “I love my neighbor.”

“I’ve been happy to see different parts of the local community together to the support of the Muslims,” Malik said. “The majority of people have been very supportive.”