On Wednesday, the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's office announced federal charges against 57-year-old Daniel George Fisher for threatening to blow up a mosque in Minneapolis.
Last year, the Tawfiq Islamic Center received an anonymous handwritten letter that, according to court documents, threatened to "blow up your building with all you immigrants in it." FBI fingerprint specialists discovered the fingerprints belonged to Fisher, a now-homeless area man living nearby who was attempting to scare the center away from building the new mosque, according to the Star Tribune. In June, Fisher told FBI Special Agents that he had become "increasingly angry with Muslims since 9/11," and had written the letter to scare members of the Center. Fisher was charged with Obstruction of Persons in the Free Exercise of Religious Beliefs.
"The free expression of religion is at the heart of what it means to be American," U.S. Attorney Luger said in a press release. "Those who seek to infringe the rights of others to practice freely their faith are not only violating the law, but are ignoring a freedom that our founders held so dear."
According to Jaylani Hussein, Executive Director of Minnesota's Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter, threats like Fisher's are nothing new. But it's significant to see federal charges.
"This threat wasn't something in the form of 'we don't like you,'" Hussein said in a phone interview Thursday. "It was a clear threat of bombing. We can't take these threats lightly at all. We look forward to [the charges] being a deterrent."
Fisher's threat last year wasn't the only recent instance of Islamophobia in Minnesota. According to Hussein, this is the third or fourth mosque to receive a similar threat.
"This is definitely a scary time for the American Muslim community," he said. "Mosques aren't just buildings. They're symbols of the community. Individuals are obviously facing some form of aggression, but most don't report those aggressions. In Minnesota we've seen that really increase, and it shows this rhetoric and intimidation leads to violence."
Last month, a mosque in Mankato, Minnesota, was vandalized by a man who, in broad daylight, placed a "For Lease" sign over the mosque's name as witnesses passed by. In July, a teenage girl found a message on a mosque door that insulted Islam's Prophet Muhammad and read, "Fuck Islam." And earlier this summer, five Somali men were shot at in a "bias-motivated" attack as they headed to a mosque in Minneapolis. The threat charges are just the latest example of Islamophobia evolving beyond hate speech — and how those actions won't be tolerated. But for action to be taken, Hussein says, mosques need to report instances of abuse.
"The FBI went through great lengths to identify this individual," Hussein said. "It sends the right message not just to the Muslim community but to those who try to use letters of intimidation against Muslims that they can't get away with it."