March 14, 2018 05:04 PM
Authorities say they have arrested three men from rural central Illinois on arson charges who they believe are behind the bombing of a Bloomington mosque in August 2017 and an attempted bombing of an Illinois abortion clinic in November 2017.
A Tuesday statement from the U.S. attorney's office in Springfield announced the arrests of Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; Michael McWhorter, 29. All are from Clarence, a rural community 35 miles north of Champaign-Urbana.
According to a criminal complaint stemming from an unrelated weapons charge against Hari, a confidential source told law enforcement officers that Hari, McWhorter and Morris were involved in the blast at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center.
The confidential source told authorities that Morris said he made the pipe bomb that McWhorter threw into the mosque. Morris also told the source that Hari said he would pay Morris and McWhorter $18,000 for their involvement.
A search of records from Enterprise Rent-A-Car also showed Hari rented a vehicle on July 27 and returned in on Aug. 26, a day after the bombing, according to the complaint.
Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Brooker spoke about the arrests briefly during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.
"That bombing that took place last summer was a tragedy for all Minnesotans," Brooker said. "And from the beginning, it has been a top priority for federal and local law enforcement and remains so today."
FBI Acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Bone said his office will continue to investigate the motive behind the bombing.
Bone added that, "Law enforcement does not believe there is any further threat to the community related to the incident."
During Tuesday's press conference, Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts said he was pleased with the community support that was seen after the incident.
"Because of the nature of this case, we've seen an overwhelming amount of support from our community for the Dar Al-Farooq community center and the Muslim community in Bloomington," he said. "We think that was outstanding."
He added, "We hope this is a significant portion of the healing process."
The explosion occurred in the early morning hours of Aug. 5 shortly before morning prayers, and caused extensive damage to the imam's office.
No one was injured.
Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director, said a projectile had come through an office window and set off sprinklers in a ball of fire. He said a van or pickup truck had been seen driving by prior to the explosion.
In October, Omar met with FBI agents who showed him a photo of a person of interest and said the investigation was progressing.
Shortly after the attack, the FBI offered a $30,000 reward for information on the bombing. Muslim advocacy groups and Twin Cities' mosques were also offering a $24,000 reward.
Online fundraising sites had raised nearly $130,000 for the mosque in the months after the bombing.
But in the immediate aftermath, the Council on American-Islamic Relations reported the group had received a significant increase in hate messages posted to its Facebook page, including one that offered a "10k reward for the next mosque gone." Another read, "It didn't kill any of them, what kind of crappy bomb is that."
At the time, a CAIR survey showed that between April and June of 2017 the organization saw a 91 percent increase in discrimination calls to its office compared to the same time period the year before. In August, the Southern Poverty Law Center said the group had collected 1,372 reports of bias incidents since the 2016 election.
The Dar Al-Farooq mosque primarily serves Somalis in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community outside of east Africa, with an estimated 57,000 people, according to the most recent census estimates.
Ben Rodgers & Beth McDonough
Updated: March 14, 2018 05:04 PM
Created: March 13, 2018 04:33 PM
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