MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A grand jury added federal civil rights and hate crimes violations to the charges three Illinois men face in the bombing of a mosque in suburban Minneapolis, prosecutors announced Thursday.
The new five-count indictment names Michael Hari, 47, Michael McWhorter, 29, and Joe Morris, 23. They were previously charged with arson in Minnesota and are being held in Urbana, Illinois, on separate charges.
They are accused of traveling from Clarence, Illinois, to carry out the Aug. 5 pipe-bombing at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota. The explosion and fire damaged the imam's office just as morning prayers were about to begin, but nobody was hurt. The indictment alleges they conspired to bomb the mosque to make Muslims feel "frightened and intimidated," thus interfering with their free expression of religious liberty.
The counts against all three include damaging property because of its religious character, forcibly obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs, conspiracy to commit felonies with fire and explosives, and using a destructive device in a crime of violence. Hari, a former sheriff's deputy and the purported ringleader, was also charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device. They allegedly intended for the attack to scare Muslims into leaving the U.S.
"These three defendants allegedly plotted and executed a plan designed specifically to spread fear and threaten a fundamental right afforded to all, the freedom of religion," U.S. Attorney Erica H. MacDonald said in a statement. "In spite of this destructive and violent act alleged in the indictment, our communities have found strength in taking a unified stand against the attack."
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, welcomed the new federal charges.
"These charges send a strong signal that these types of acts will not go unpunished," CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein said in a statement Thursday.
Prosecutors allege that Hari built the pipe bomb and rented a pickup truck that the men drove to Minnesota. It says they stopped along the way to buy diesel fuel and gasoline that was mixed in a plastic container. Morris allegedly broke a window with a hammer when they got to the mosque and tossed the container inside, while McWhorter allegedly lit the fuse on the bomb and threw it through the broken window as Hari allegedly waited back at the truck. The indictment says they then drove home.
Court records didn't list attorneys for the men on the new Minnesota charges. Their attorneys in the Illinois case didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.
According to the weapons and other charges in Illinois, the three were part of a militia group that called itself the "White Rabbits." Their alleged offenses in Illinois included robberies, the attempted bombing of railroad tracks in an extortion attempt in January, and an attempt to bomb an abortion clinic in Champaign last November. They're scheduled to go on trial on those charges Aug. 21.
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