BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (KMSP) - FBI agents arrested three men in Illinois Tuesday they suspect were involved in last year's bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, with officials announcing they were charging all three in relation to the incident at an afternoon news conference in Minneapolis.
The men's stated intention in driving to Minnesota to carry out the attack was to "scare" Muslims enough to make them leave the country, officials said. All three men are also suspects in the attempted bombing of an abortion clinic in Illinois last November, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Springfield.
The group was originally arrested Tuesday morning for possession of machine guns, according to a federal criminal complaint, though by the end of the day each had been charged with one count of arson for the bombing. The men arrested and charged are: Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; Michael McWhorter, 29, all of Clarence, Illinois, a rural community approximately 35 miles north of Champaign-Urbana.
The incident took place just before morning prayers on Aug. 5 last year, when the men allegedly broke a window into the Imam's office and tossed an improvised explosive device made from PVC piping inside. Nobody was hurt or injured though the blast caused a fire and extensive damage to the building.
Law enforcement leaders all hailed their agencies' cooperation and ability to move quickly at the press conference, though perhaps most importantly they emphasized the outsize role the community had in coming together to bring the perpetrators of the terrible act to justice.
"We couldn't do our jobs without the vast amount of information shared by concerned citizens," acting special agent in charge of the Minneapolis FBI field office Robert Bone said.
"We've seen an overwhelming amount of support from the community at large for the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center and the Muslim community here," Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts added.
According to an affidavit filed in support of the complaint, an FBI source was drinking with Morris and McWhorter when Morris started talking about throwing a pipe bomb at a mosque in Minnesota. Morris said that he made the device and McWhorter threw it into the mosque, with Morris claiming Hari was going to pay them $18,000 for their participation in the bombing.
The document also indicates Hari rented a black Nissan pickup truck on July 27, which was returned on Aug. 6 – the day after the bombing. The truck had a beginning mileage of 13,873 miles and an ending mileage of 16,948, with a roundtrip distance from Champaign, Illinois to Bloomington, Minnesota of approximately 1,040 miles.
Officials said Tuesday the three men, along with 18-year-old Ellis Mack, are also facing charges for their possession of assault rifles from Oct. 2017 to March 2018.
In addition to the incident in Bloomington last summer, police also believe the Hari, Morris and McWhorter were involved in the attempted bombing of the Women’s Health Practice in Champaign, Ill. on Nov. 7, 2017.
VIDEO RELEASED: Leaders at the center in released surveillance video to Fox 9 last October with the hope that someone would come forward to help investigators identify and apprehend a suspect. The video shows people responding to an initial report of a fire during the early morning hours of Aug. 5. There’s panic and the bomb goes off.
At least one suspect threw some type of improvised explosive device through the window of the imam’s office inside the Islamic Center on Park Avenue in Bloomington. Several worshipers were inside at the time. No one was injured or killed.
"It blows, you can see it shakes the camera,” said Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director. “You can see it put a lot of cracks into the cement wall. Thank God nobody got hurt, but the one who did it wanted to hurt someone and wanted to kill someone.”
The case has been under investigation by the FBI.
BURGLARY MONTHS AFTER BLAST: Last October, just months after the explosion, Dar Al-Farooq was burglarized. According to police, two suspects entered the building around 2 or 3 a.m., breaking multiple windows and damaging many other items in the building. Security video shows the suspects wearing similar ape or monkey masks and heavy clothing. One is carrying a duffel bag, and the other is carrying a shoulder bag. The larger suspect had a distinctive walk.
The suspects are seen loading electronic items onto a chair and wheeling it through the building. Police have not said what items were stolen.