Minneapolis mosque fires: Suspect indicted on federal hate crime, arson charges

Authorities have come down hard on a suspected arsonist who is alleged to have set fire to a pair of Minneapolis mosques at the end of April.

"These houses of worship are more than just places where people pray," explained Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara.

The suspect, Jackie Rahm Little, is now facing federal hate crime charges. An indictment unsealed Thursday charges Little with arson and a civil rights violation for targeting a religious institution.

U.S. District Court before Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright ordered Little to remain in custody while the case plays out.

"As I have said many times, Islamophobia is serious and must be confronted head-on," stated U.S. Attorney Andy Luger at a news conference following Little’s arraignment. Little entered and pleaded not guilty to the two counts.

Court documents detail the attacks that sent fear and panic throughout the local Muslim community with Little photographed carrying a gas can. Other images show him at the scene of the fires that, fortunately, were extinguished without anyone getting hurt.

Added Luger, "We will respond to any attack on any house of worship with urgency and determination. I am proud of the support our faith community provided to the Muslim community during this difficult time."

Federal authorities said investigators are currently looking to connect Little to additional attacks and acts of vandalism targeting Muslims including the office of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

Court records indicate Little has a troubled history of setting fires and mental illness. Community leaders are particularly concerned about graffiti linked to the defendant that includes spray painting of the number 500.

"We suspect that it involves killing either 500 people or recalling a terrorist attack that happened in Somalia that killed 500 people. But with people with mental illness, God knows what they're actually implying," said Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Hussein and others tell FOX 9’s Paul Blume, they wonder whether Little may be motivated by hate he is encountering elsewhere, "We definitely know it is not just him waking up on a Monday morning and deciding to do this. There is a level of engagement that is happening that will lead to some sort of an attack against our community."

Little’s defense attorney hinted in court that Little’s mental competency may become an issue as this case heads to trial. Luger said, his office will address the issue if and when it is raised. In the meantime, Little will remain behind bars.