St. Paul mosque fire suspect charged with arson

The man accused of intentionally setting fire to a mosque in St. Paul is facing felony charges. 

Said Murekezi, 42, has a history of criminal activity, including an arson conviction, and now faces charges of second-degree arson, second-degree burglary of a religious building, and drug possession in connection to the fire at Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center on May 17.

According to court records, Murekezi entered the building through a broken window, and approximately one minute later, smoke was seen on surveillance video coming from the Islamic center. No one was in the building at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported. 

FBI agents spoke with a witness who said he saw the suspect throw something through the window at the Islamic Center the day before the fire. Special agents noted this was the same window Murekezi used to enter the building just before the blaze, charges said. 

Murekezi allegedly admitted to authorities that he broke into the Islamic Center on May 16 and stayed in the building overnight and looked for "things inside to burn," charges read. Law enforcement said he claimed what he did was "fun" and made sure no one else was in the building before starting the fires. 

He claimed he burned the building as a form of protest because "other Muslims in the community were having to sleep outside in the cold." According to law enforcement, Murekezi stated it was a good thing he was caught, or he would "torch" another mosque in the next few days and provided two specific locations.  

While talking with investigators, Murekezi said the mosque arson was just one of many ideas on how to bring change and said his other ideas included committing acts of terrorism at the Mall of America. 

Investigators said Murekezi claimed how he hates terrorism but is "becoming one," charges read. 

This is not Murekezi’s first incident with allegedly setting fires. He was charged and convicted of second-degree arson after using a lighter to set a pile of clothing on fire inside Dorothy Day Center in August 2020. He was sentenced to serve 18 months at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in St. Cloud. However, the sentence was stayed for a year, then amended in March 2023 for him to serve 30 days in Ramsey County Correctional Facility.

Additionally, just two days before the St. Paul mosque fire, Murekezi pleaded guilty in Hennepin County court to first-degree damage to property for breaking a restaurant window with a broom. A judge sentenced him to sever 13 months, which would be stayed for three years if he abided by the law.  He also pleaded guilty on May 15 to drug possession. 

He was charged again on Friday in a different case with one count of fourth-degree damage to property after breaking a glass door to enter a catholic school in Minneapolis, where he was found sleeping in the elevator of the school. 

Murekezi was taken into custody Thursday and is scheduled to make his first court appearance for the St. Paul mosque fire Friday afternoon. 

St. Paul’s mosque fire is among several recent fires that have either been suspected as arson or have been charged as such throughout the Twin Cities. In April, a man is accused of setting fire to two mosques in South Minneapolis while there were people worshiping inside. He was indicted on federal hate crime and arson charges.