Council on America-Islamic Relations calls for federal hate crime charges against alleged arson suspect

Jun. 16—EAST GRAND FORKS — The Minnesota chapter of the Council on America-Islamic Relations has called for federal hate crime charges to be made for the alleged

arson attempt that happened at the East Grand Forks Islamic Center on Sunday, June 5

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During a news conference Thursday at the Islamic Center, CAIR-MN Executive Director Jaylani Hussein called for an FBI probe of the incident and for federal hate crime charges to be brought against the suspect in the case, Suzette Gay Thompson, 57, of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Thompson has been charged with two counts of first-degree arson.

Hussein said the incident has impacted those not only in East Grand Forks, but also communities across Minnesota. He called for the Department of Justice to "properly" charge Thompson with a federal hate crime.

"Minnesota Muslims are facing unprecedented attack against our centers," Hussein said. "We are now the highest per-capita in the country of attacks against Muslims and we rank among the highest, fourth in the country, of all attacks against Muslims in America."

Hussein said the reason is linked to anti-Muslim movements, along with a rise in white supremacists and white nationalists who he says have targeted communities throughout Minnesota.

"This incident, it marks the type of worst form of attack against our community," Hussein said. "An attack against one place of worship is an attack against all places of worship. And our community deserves to be safe and in peace."

Hussein said work is being done to get federal support to secure the building, but there are still additional needs to ensure the community feels safe.

The Imam/Director of the East Grand Forks Islamic Center, Mohamed Mohamed, said he believes Thompson was "meticulous " about what she was doing and believes she knew when prayer would be going on and was dressed in attire that is common to East African woman.

"She came to terrorize us while we were defenseless," Mohamed said. "She knew what she was doing and she targeted us because of our faith."

East Grand Forks Police were alerted of a potential arson at the Islamic Center at 4:38 a.m. on June 5. According to a press release, after arriving on scene police were notified that the suspect fled westbound. Police were able to identify Thompson from surveillance videos and located her a short time later.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and/or $20,000 fine.

Mohamed said since the incident, attendance to services has been down.

"I would like to reiterate and make it clear that our community is traumatized," Mohamed said. "We are fearful of what happened. We've been terrorized."

Mohamed said the fire that happened on June 5 isn't an isolated incident — he has seen similar incidents in previous summers since the Mosque opened in 2018.

The need for community support was another point Mohamed said is crucial.

"We need to know that our friends and community members care for us," Mohamed said. "The first thing in helping someone else is to show empathy, and we would like to see that publicly being spoken out. We are part of this community, too. We exist and we deserve to be heard and appreciated."

Several faith leaders from the East Grand Forks community also showed up in support of the Islamic Center. Pastor Sonja Brucklacher at Bethany/Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Pastor Paul Trenne at Our Savior's Lutheran Church and Pastor Jeff Brown at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Crookston all spoke during the news conference.

"As neighbors they deserve the right to live without fear and experience of violence in their lives because of who they are," Trenne said. "The attack on their religious freedom is really an attack on all of our religious freedoms."

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz also shared his support of the Muslim community in a social media post on June 13.