Charges: Suspect in St. Paul mosque arson was angry about homelessness

Criminal charges have been filed against the man accused of intentionally starting a fire inside a St. Paul mosque.

Said Murekezi, 42, is charged with second-degree arson, second-degree burglary of a religious building, and fifth-degree drug possession. He was discharged from jail about 36 hours before allegedly setting fire to the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center, according to jail booking information.

Murezeki was arrested Wednesday night.

Court records show Murekezi has multiple convictions, including one for arson stemming from an incident at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul in 2020.

Documents show he was sentenced to a year of supervised probation in November for that incident and underwent multiple mental health evaluations.

While the details of those mental health evaluations aren’t publicly accessible, records show Murekezi violated the terms of his probation in March and was ordered to spend 20 days in jail. Shortly after getting out, he was arrested on April 28 for trespassing and drug possession after he was found walking on a light rail track.

Murekezi underwent a chemical dependency evaluation before those charges were dropped, and he was released from Hennepin County Jail on Monday night. The fire at Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center was reported Wednesday morning.

A criminal complaint states that investigators were able to track down Murekezi after reviewing surveillance videos and using facial recognition technology, and he appeared to be wearing the same clothing videos showed the arsonist wearing that morning.

During an interview, court documents state that Murekezi admitted to setting the mosque fire, saying he broke into the building the day before, stayed overnight, and looked for things to burn. He said he then made sure nobody was in the building when he started the fires as a form of protest.

He continued that he’s Muslim and sees other Muslims and Americans sleeping outside in the cold instead of being served by the building or the government.

According to the complaint, Murekezi also told authorities that if he hadn’t been caught, he would’ve burned another mosque or church and specifically mentioned the Islamic Dawah Center in St. Paul and one in Mankato that he frequents and takes money from.

He added that the mosque arson was just one of his ideas on how to bring about change, saying he’s also considered burning a store at Mall of America or setting off a bomb in an empty space, admitting that he’s becoming a terrorist despite hating terrorism. The complaint adds that he said if he were in a government building, he’ll “burn that [expletive] down” because the government isn’t doing enough for homelessness.

Court documents don’t list any home address for Murekezi.

His initial court appearance is set for Friday afternoon. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in prison on the arson and burglary charges.