Minnesota political and faith leaders gathered Friday afternoon at a Bloomington mosque to call for religious tolerance and unity in response to the attack on an imam as he walked to his nightly prayers.
“That caused huge waves of fear. The following day, half of the congregation did not show up,” said Mohamed Omar, executive director of Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center.
Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Peggy Flanagan and Attorney General Keith Ellison were among those participating in a show of solidarity with the imam who was attacked, Mohamed Mukhtar.
“Imam Mukhtar is not defined by an attack as he went to worship, but Minnesota could be if we don’t choose together to decide how we’re going to address inclusion,” Walz said.
Mukhtar was assaulted shortly after 10 p.m. Aug. 6 as he headed for prayers just one day after the three-year anniversary of a bombing at the mosque. He suffered two shoulder fractures in the attack.
Since the bombing, the mosque has faced a series of disturbing incidents, Omar said.
“This is a health crisis for our community, living with fear and not knowing what’s going to come next,” he said.
On Friday, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced that two teenagers have been charged in connection with the assault.
A 16-year-old boy from Bloomington was charged with aiding and abetting third-degree assault. He made his first court appearance Friday. His next scheduled appearance is 9 a.m. Sept. 23.
A 13-year-old boy has also been charged in relation to this case, but because of his age, no public information is available.
Mukhtar told police he had been attacked by two males near the crosswalk at Park Avenue and E. 82nd Street, just outside the mosque, the charges say. Both assailants kicked and hit him, the complaint says.
Walz said it is too early to say whether the assailants will be charged with hate crimes. “I’m certainly disappointed it was our young people,” he said.
Witnesses told police they saw two males walking from Smith Park to the mosque parking lot right before the attack. Surveillance footage from a school attached to the mosque also showed two teenagers approach the victim and then run back to the park, the complaint continues.
Mukhtar appeared at the Bloomington gathering, along with the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and faith leaders, including the Rev. Curtiss DeYoung of the Minnesota Council of Churches and Rabbi Jill Crimmings of the Minnesota Rabbinical Association.
The faith leaders said an attack against one person of faith is an attack against them all.
An Illinois militia leader accused of being the ringleader in the 2017 bombing of the mosque is awaiting trial. Two co-defendants have pleaded guilty. Prosecutors allege they hoped to scare Muslims into leaving the country. No one was injured in that attack.
The mosque has applied for a security grant for perimeters and entryways that will arrive in September, Walz said.
“This is a sad conversation, but we’ve seen it in all of our faith communities,” Walz said.
The community is thankful for the support, Omar said. But he also looks toward a future without disruptive incidents.
“If we would have peace in our neighborhood, if we could just live here without fear, we wouldn’t need all these people to come together. We don’t know what else to do but say to our Minnesotans, ‘We need you,’ ” Omar said.
Zoë Jackson covers young and new voters at the Star Tribune through the Report For America program, supported by the Minneapolis Foundation.