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Leaders believe imam was target of Bloomington mosque bombing

Mohamed Omar, executive director of the Dar Al-Farooq Center in Bloomington, speaks to reporters on Sunday, Aug. 6, from the imam’s office, which sustained damage when an explosive device was thrown through a window early Saturday. (Kristi Belcamino / St. Paul Pioneer Press)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Gov. Mark Dayton called Saturday's bombing of a Bloomington mosque a terrorist attack, and many in the community flocked to the center on Sunday to show their support.

An explosive device apparently was thrown through the office window of the mosque's imam at the Dar Al-Farooq Center about 5 a.m. Saturday, according to authorities.

As many as 20 people were in the building at the time, but no one was injured in the blast and resulting blaze.

"This is a terrible, dastardly, cowardly, terrible act. ... It's a crime," Dayton said during a visit to the mosque Sunday.

"It's an act of terrorism, a criminal act of terrorism against the imam, who thank the good lord was not present in his office as it would appear this person intended," Dayton said. "The destruction done to this sacred site is unthinkable, unforgivable, and I hope and pray the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

The FBI is leading the investigation and has characterized the bomb as an improvised explosive device, but questions about who might be behind it, motives and specifics of the device remained unanswered Sunday.

Dayton was part of a political delegation that visited the mosque Sunday. Others in the group included U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, the nation's first Somali-American lawmaker and a Muslim.

Ellison said in a statement, "While we do not yet know who is behind this attack, we do know that they do not represent what makes Minnesota special. I know law enforcement will find the suspects quickly and bring justice to our community."

The mosque invited the community to an event Sunday to gather in solidarity, saying on its Facebook page: "To best describe this event, I would like to quote Carl Gustav Jung, 'I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.' This event is a testimony of how resilient the DFC's community is."

Another event, called Standing in Solidarity with DFC, is slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Mosque members said that they believe the imam was the ultimate target. The mosque's religious leader is typically in his office in the morning preparing for prayer.

"He works right here in the mornings," said Abdul Mohamed of Minneapolis, pointing out large holes torn into the walls, ceiling and desk.

Mohamed said he believed whoever threw the device knew enough about the imam's habits to specifically target him. He said the attacker must have been familiar with the imam's office location and the facility's schedule.

Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director, was inside the mosque preparing for morning prayers Saturday and felt the explosion.

On Sunday, he reiterated the center's certainty that its leader had been targeted and spoke about the community rallying behind the belief that "hope overcomes fear."

"Everybody else was coming here for prayer; somebody else was coming here intending to hurt those people," he said.

Because of the investigation, he didn't see the damage until Sunday morning.

"When I came this morning and saw the office ... the destruction ... completely damaged, the feeling in our community was that it was an attack on our imam," Omar said.

"This is an icon in our center and our community who is knowledgeable and a very thoughtful person, and all of us gather around him," he said. "This was an attack on our imam, and we feel very horrified and sad. On the other hand, we are very pleased to have our at-large faith-based communities and our neighbors and officials come out to support (us).

"That is something that gives us hope and that we always want to look for; fear cannot take over, fear cannot destroy our hope," he added.

Erik Stoltenberg heard about the attack Sunday morning and after church went to visit the mosque with his 4-year-old daughter and 7-month-old son.

"I explained to her that people attend things that are like our church but different, and that some people sometimes don't like other people for bad reasons and that it was important for us to come and show our support as a community," Stoltenberg said. "It was pretty hard to explain to a 4-year-old."

Neither the FBI nor the Bloomington Police Department, which initially responded to the explosion, would speculate on a motive for the incident.

"At this point, our focus is to determine who and why," Rick Potts, the FBI's special agent in charge of the investigation, told reporters Saturday. "Is it a hate crime? Is it an act of terror? ... Again, that's what the investigation is going to determine."

Rewards offered, fundraising begins

A fundraising campaign via GoFundMe has been started to support the center. The initial goal was set at $95,000, and the campaign stood at $20,054 as of early Sunday afternoon.

The mosque serves as a religious center and community organizing platform for Muslim activists and leaders in the area, said the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, which is offering a $24,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest or conviction, Zaman, the executive director, said Sunday the reward comes from six different Muslim organizations.

The Minnesota Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is offering a $10,000 reward.

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