Friday May 19, 2023
By Alexandra Simon
According to a criminal complaint, 42-year-old Said Murekezi admitted to police he started a fire at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center "as a form of protest."
ST PAUL, Minn — A 42-year-old man now faces a felony arson charge after prosecutors say he purposefully set fire to the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center on May 17.
The suspect, Said Murekezi, was arrested Wednesday night and charged Friday with arson, along with second-degree burglary and possession of methamphetamine.
According to a criminal complaint, investigators used security camera footage from a school located near the Islamic Center to identify Said Murekezi, who was previously convicted of second-degree arson in November for setting a fire in his room at St. Paul's Dorothy Day Center in Aug. 2020.
During an interview with police, Murekezi admitted to setting the fire at the unoccupied Islamic Center "as a form of protest" because other Muslims in the community have to "sleep outside in the cold," court documents said.
Murekezi told police that he would have set fire to another mosque or church had he not been caught, and said the arson was just "one of many ideas on how to bring about change," according to the complaint.
Police also found 1.1 grams of methamphetamine in Murekezi's possession.
Murekezi is set to make his first appearance in Ramsey County District Court Friday afternoon.
Firefighters responded to the Islamic Center, which was nearing the end of a major construction project, at 430 Dale St. N. around 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.
St. Paul Fire Department Deputy Chief Roy Mokosso described interior damage to the community center and mosque as "extensive" and told reporters evidence located on the scene caused investigators to label the fire a case of suspected arson.
"I'm disgusted," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said following the fire, and vowed that the person or persons who set the fire would be held accountable. "We do not tolerate attacks against our communities of faith. An attack against one of us is really an attack against all of us."
The mayor said police and city leaders will be working with Muslim leaders to immediately increase patrols and improve readiness in the event of future attacks.