Minnesota mosque explosion ‘deeper and scarier’ than threats

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton appears at a news conference at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, where an explosion damaged a room and shattered windows as worshippers prepared for morning prayers early Saturday. (Courtney Pedroza/Star Tribune via AP)
Updated 07 August 2017

Minnesota mosque explosion ‘deeper and scarier’ than threats

MINNEAPOLIS, USA: The Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in suburban Minneapolis, like other US mosques, occasionally receives threatening calls and e-mails. But leaders say they’re more frightened after a weekend attack in which an explosive shattered windows and damaged a room as worshippers prepared for morning prayers.
“We feel like it’s much deeper and scarier than like something random,” Mohamed Omar, the center’s executive director, said Sunday. “It’s so scary.”
No one was hurt in the blast, which happened around 5 a.m. Saturday. Windows of the imam’s office were shattered, either by the blast or by an object thrown through them. The FBI is seeking suspects and trying to determine whether the incident was a hate crime.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who joined other public officials and community leaders for a meeting inside the building Sunday, described the bombing as “so wretched” and “not Minnesota.”
“This is an act of terrorism. This is against the law in America,” Dayton said at a news conference afterward, the Star Tribune reported .
Besides serving as a place of worship and community center, the mosque in Bloomington, just south of Minneapolis, has a fitness center, gymnasiums for boys and girls, a football field and adjoins a city park, Omar said. He estimates the mosque holds up to 300 worshippers for Friday prayers. The community center also hosts computer classes, a basketball league, religious classes, lectures and other events.
“It’s a place that a family can come and get everything they need,” Omar said.
The mosque opened in 2011 at the site of a former elementary school in the suburb of about 85,000 and serves people primarily from the area’s large Somali community. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in the US, roughly 57,000 people, according to the latest census figures.
Some residents opposed the center’s opening, and complaints have been made about parking, noise and traffic, the Star Tribune reported. Omar said the center gets along with “92, 93 percent” of its neighbors.
And while the mosque has received threatening calls and messages, Deputy Bloomington Police Chief Mike Hartley said Sunday he was unware of any hate crimes reported at the center.
Saturday’s bombing comes amid a rise in reports of anti-Muslim incidents in the US, including arson attacks and vandalism at mosques, harassment of women wearing Muslim head coverings and bullying of Muslim schoolchildren. Just recently in Minnesota, an Islamic cemetery in Castle Rock Township reported it had been vandalized with spray painted profanities and swastikas.
The US Department of Homeland Security said in a Saturday statement on the Bloomington explosion that the department “fully supports the rights of all to freely and safely worship the faith of their choosing and we vigorously condemn such attacks on any religious institution.”
The reward for information leading to an arrest or conviction has grown to $24,000, said Asad Zaman, director of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota. The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said its national office is urging Islamic centers and mosques to step up security.
“If a bias motive is proven, this attack would represent another in a long list of hate incidents targeting Islamic institutions nationwide in recent months,” said Amir Malik, the local chapter’s civil rights director.


Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

Updated 15 August 2020

Pakistan launches anti-polio drive as COVID-19 cases decline

  • Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio is still endemic
  • Since Jan., Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani health officials on Saturday launched a seven-day vaccination campaign against polio as part of efforts aimed at eliminating the crippling disease amid a steady decline in fatalities and infections from the coronavirus, which had recently overwhelmed the country’s fragile health system.
The anti-polio campaign, which began amid tight security, aims to vaccinate as many as 34 million children across Pakistan, including former Taliban strongholds bordering Afghanistan, a government statement said.
Medical workers participating in the drive against polio were seen adhering to social distancing regulations as they wore face masks and gloves while going house-to-house to avoid a spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am hopeful that parents will continue to realize the importance of vaccinating their children during this campaign,” said Faisal Sultan, an adviser to the prime minister on health issues.
According to Rana Safdar, who heads the government’s polio program, similar campaigns against polio will be launched in October, November and December.
Earlier Saturday, Pakistan’s military said Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder and billionaire philanthropist, praised Islamabad’s success in the fight against coronavirus in a telephone call to the country’s army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. It said Gates also discussed the resumption of the drive against polio.
Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria are the three countries in the world where polio — a disabling and life-threatening disease caused by the polio virus — is still endemic. The nonprofit Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has helped Pakistan and other places worldwide fight the disease.
Pakistan had hoped to eliminate the disease by 2018, when only 12 cases were reported. But there was a surge in new cases the following year. Since January, Pakistan has reported about 100 new polio cases from various parts of the country, including the northwestern region bordering Afghanistan.
Pakistani Taliban and other militants regularly stage attacks on polio teams and security forces escorting them because they claim the anti-polio drive is part of an alleged Western conspiracy to sterilize children or collect intelligence. Attacks on polio teams increased after it was revealed that a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign was used as a ruse by the CIA in the hunt for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was killed by US commandos in 2011 in Pakistan.
Pakistan halted the drive against polio in March and resumed it last month amid a decline in infections and fatalities from COVID-19.
On Saturday, Pakistan reported only 9 new deaths from the new virus in the past 24 hours, increasing the country’s total of COVID-19 deaths to 6,162. So far, Pakistan has reported 288,047 cases and officials say about 93% of the patients recovered since February, when the country reported its first confirmed case.