Three men arrested in Illinois on gun charges are now suspects in the bombing of a mosque in suburban Minneapolis, federal authorities announced Tuesday.
The men are suspected of throwing an explosive into the imam's office at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington in the early morning hours of Aug. 5, 2017. The blast caused damage to the room and filled the building with smoke, but did not result in any injuries to congregants preparing for morning prayers in an adjacent room.
The bombing sent shock waves through the Muslim-American community, which has seen an increase in hate crimes in the last couple of years, according to data from the FBI. A report released in June 2017 by the Council on American-Islamic Relations showed a 91% increase in anti-Muslim incidents in the first six months of 2017 compared to the previous year.
According to the US attorney’s office in Springfield, Michael B. Hari, Joe Morris, and Michael McWhorter are suspected of carrying out the Bloomington attack, as well as attempting to bomb the Women’s Health Practice abortion clinic in Champaign, Illinois, in November.
They were arrested along with a fourth man on suspicion of illegally possessing a machine gun.
According to the federal affidavit, one of the suspects, McWhorter, said the group bombed the mosque to “scare [Muslims] out of the country” and to "show them [Muslims], 'Hey, you’re not welcome here, get the fuck out.'”
The affidavit also reveals a confidential source and an anonymous tip were instrumental in compiling evidence against the three men. A transcript of the tip submitted to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), shows the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, was part of the reason the tipster notified authorities.
"i also sent something about it to the newspaper so if you just blow it of like you did that school schooter [sic] kid in florida the press will know you got a tip so you better check it out..." a readout of the tip states.
The same day the tip was received, the Ford County Sheriff's Department, the University of Illinois Police Department, and the FBI responded to the home addresses provided by the tipster. There they found a pipe bomb attached to a propane tank, according to the affidavit.
Authorities say they also found four assault riles, three of which turned out to be fully automatic.
McWhorter allegedly admitted his involvement in bombing the mosque and the attempt on the women's clinic, and told investigators that each of the three men had specific roles in the attack.
"Hari was the driver, Morris was responsible for smashing the window in, and McWhorter was responsible for throwing the bomb in the window," the affidavit states.
The Huffington Post reported that Hari was also a former sheriff's deputy and an Illinois contractor bidding to build President Trump’s wall on the Mexican border. Hari and his bid for the border wall was profiled in a Chicago Tribune article last year.
Authorities told reporters Tuesday afternoon that the investigation into the bombing remains ongoing, and that the motivations behind the attack are still under investigation.