A Minnesota man, Jackie Rahm Little, has been arrested and charged with arson after two mosques in Minneapolis were set on fire last week. Little was also accused of committing acts of vandalism in January, including spray-painting “500” on a district office for a congressional representative, a police vehicle assigned to a Somali officer, and a shopping center known as the “Somali Mall”. Little is believed to have vandalized Representative Ilhan Omar’s office at least once. The suspect was arrested in Mankato, Minnesota, on Saturday and taken into federal custody.
According to court documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Minnesota, on April 23, Little started a fire at Masjid Omar Islamic Center in Minneapolis. An employee of the mosque caught Little as he was lighting a cardboard box on fire in the bathroom and chased him out of the building. The next day, four men working at Masjid Al-Rahma Mosque responded to a fire on the third floor. Surveillance footage showed Little approaching and entering the mosque just before the fire. Children attending a private day care on a lower floor had to be evacuated, and the fire caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage.
The suspect was also accused of committing acts of vandalism and harassment before the fires. In January, a congressional representative received several messages from the same email address, including a picture of the representative’s door vandalized with “500” and a picture that showed “a Quran in a toilet being urinated on by a male.” Investigators said Little was seen in surveillance footage spray-painting “500” on the door of the district office for a congressional representative, who is believed to be Ms. Omar. The same day, a person presumed to be Little spray-painted “500” on a police vehicle assigned to a Somali officer and on an entryway to a shopping center known as the “Somali Mall.”
The meaning of “500” was not clear, investigators said. Mr. Little, who is also known as Joel Arthur Tueting, had a known history of arson or suspected arson and several documented incidents of domestic assault and other violent crimes, according to court documents.
Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, said in a statement that there was “an epidemic of hate against the Muslim community and other religious minorities” intended to keep people “fearful and divided.” Chief Brian O’Hara of the Minneapolis Police said that the two fires were “intended to inflict terror into the hearts of our community members.” He added that “setting fire to a sacred facility, where children and families gather, is incredibly inhumane.”
Hate crimes related to religion in the United States increased 11.6 percent between 2020 and 2021, according to the F.B.I. However, the data is incomplete, and experts say that the numbers are likely underestimates. Of the 1,590 hate crimes related to religion reported, 9.6 percent were anti-Islamic, the agency said. Investigators have not yet revealed the motive for the mosque fires.
Little’s mother, whose name was redacted in the affidavit, told law enforcement that her son was fascinated by fire at a young age and that she thought he had been involved with unreported arsons because of times he had requested rides from different locations. She also told investigators that Little harassed a Muslim woman while living in transitional housing.