(Reuters) - Three men from a rural community in Illinois were indicted on Thursday and charged for the 2017 bombing of a mosque outside Minneapolis, U.S. prosecutors said.
Michael McWhorter, 29, Joe Morris, 23, and Michael B. Hari, 47, were accused of carrying out a pipe bomb attack on the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Aug. 5, 2017. The bomb damaged the building, but caused no injuries, according to a statement from the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Shannon Elkins, a lawyer identified by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as representing Hari, was not immediately available for comment. Attorneys Christopher Madel and Robert Richman, identified as representing McWhorter and Morris respectively, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“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 MacDonald said in a statement.
The Dar al-Farooq mosque mainly serves Somalis in the Minneapolis area. Minnesota has the largest Somali community in the country, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates.
Morris is alleged to have used a sledgehammer to break a window at the Islamic center in the early morning of Aug. 5, while worshippers were gathered for morning prayers, and throwing a container of diesel and gasoline into the Imam’s office.
McWhorter lit the fuse on a pipe bomb Hari built and threw it into the office, igniting the fuel. The two returned to a pickup where Hari was waiting and sped off, according to U.S. prosecutors.
The three suspects were arrested in March by FBI agents in Illinois and also charged with possession of assault rifles, which are classified as machine guns, and an attempted bombing of an abortion clinic in Champaign, Illinois on Nov. 7.
The three men are being held in Illinois on these charges. All three are from Clarence, about 35 miles (56 km) north of Champaign-Urbana.
Anti-Muslim incidents rose sharply in the United States in the year after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to a review by the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and G Crosse