Minnesota mosque fire suspect admits setting it to protest homelessness, affidavit says

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A man charged with setting a fire at a Minnesota mosque told authorities he is Muslim and set the fire to protest homelessness, according to court records.

Said Murekezi, 42, is charged with second-degree arson, second-degree burglary of a religious building and fifth-degree drug possession in the fire Wednesday at the Oromo American Tawhid Islamic Center in St. Paul.

The center was last used as a mosque in 2021 and was currently being used as office space.

The arson was one of at least six acts of vandalism or arson against mosques in Minnesota this year, and prompted Muslim and government officials to call for the state's residents to stand in unity with Muslims.

A probable cause statement said Murezeki was released from jail 36 hours before the fire. Court records show he has several past convictions, including one for arson at the Dorothy Day Center in St. Paul in 2020. He has also undergone several mental health evaluations.

Investigators said Murekezi was on probation for first-degree criminal damage to property and had previously broken windows at a Catholic church in Minneapolis this year and an Islamic community center in Minnetonka in 2021.

The probable cause statement said Murekezi, who had no listed home address, admitted that he broke into the mosque the day before the fire and slept there overnight.

He said he was upset that Muslims and Americans who are homeless were not being helped by the building or the government. He also told investigators that if he had not been caught he would have burned another mosque or church, according to the statement.

Court documents don’t list a current attorney for this case.