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Minneapolis man charged with arson after two mosque fires in two days

Friday April 28, 2023

By Louis Krauss

A warrant has been issued for the 36-year-old's arrest. His whereabouts are unknown, authorities say. 

Jackie Rahm Little, a 36-year-old from Minneapolis, has been charged with arson for allegedly starting a fire on the third floor of Mercy Islamic Center. CREDIT: EDINA POLICE

A Minneapolis man was charged Thursday with arson, accused of starting fires that damaged two of the city's mosques over consecutive days this week, and a warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Jackie Rahm Little faces one count of second-degree arson for the most recent fire, which on Monday evening burned the third floor of the Mercy Islamic Center, which houses the Masjid Al Rahma mosque.

The fires rattled Minnesota's Muslim community. At a news conference Tuesday, a dozen community leaders decried what many fear were attacks motivated by Islamophobia.

The complaint does not mention possible motives or whether anti-Muslim bias could have been a factor. Little's whereabouts are unknown, the complaint says.

According to the criminal complaint, surveillance footage shows Little entering the center carrying a bag with a gasoline can inside. Soon afterward, a staff member spotted a fire in the top floor hallway near some offices.

The Minneapolis Fire Department and police responded, and the fire was extinguished before it could spread into most of the rooms on the third floor or the lower levels.

A melted plastic gas can was found where the fire started, the complaint says.

Officers obtained surveillance video from a nearby gas station, which purportedly shows Little buying a gas can and filling it with gas on the day of the fire.

Nicholas Kimball, spokesman for the Hennepin County Attorney's Office, declined to comment on possible motives.

"This initial charge was filed to support efforts to apprehend the suspect," Kimball said in an email. "The investigation remains ongoing and we cannot comment further at this point."

The Mercy Islamic Center fire came one day after another not far away.

On Tuesday, Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara said the department suspected the same person was responsible for a fire Sunday evening at the Masjid Omar Islamic Center. The two mosques are less than a mile apart.

Minneapolis police responded about 7 p.m. Sunday to a report of a fire in the bathroom of the mosque in the 24 Somali Mall. The suspect, described as a white man, entered with a full red gas canister before lighting a fire in the bathroom, according to a news release from the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN). Worshipers extinguished the fire before firefighters arrived.

The complaint identifies Little as a 36-year-old white man.

Second-degree arson carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines. It's defined as someone having "intentionally destroyed or damaged a real or personal property valued at more than $1,000." Little could ultimately face additional charges.

Court records show Little has had three cases in which petitioners requested that he be committed for mental illness. The petitions were filed between April 2021 and December 2022.

In March 2021, the Edina Police Department issued a missing person notice for Little and requested the public's help with finding him. The notice described him as 5 feet 11 inches and 190 pounds with a thick beard, and said he was driving a black 2005 Cadillac Escalade at the time with Minnesota license plate MGE 671.

In 2019, Little was cited for drunken driving.

Jaylani Hussein, CAIR-MN's executive director, said he is glad that police have identified a suspect. He cautioned that Minnesota mosque leaders will remain anxious until the person is arrested.

"We obviously as a community are on edge and are glad police are moving pretty swiftly to apprehend," Hussein said.

"We look forward to hopefully bringing a resolution to this because all of our mosques are still on heightened security alert and concern of this person potentially coming to their mosque at any time."

Police ask that anyone with information about the suspect email [email protected] or call 612-673-5845. CAIR-MN has offered a $5,000 reward to anyone who provides information that leads to an arrest.


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