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2 militia members admit role in attack on Minnesota mosque

AP  |  Minnesota (US) 

Hoping to scare Muslims into leaving the US, members of an militia group rented a truck and drove more than 805 kilometers to bomb a mosque, two men have admitted.

and said that when they arrived at the in Bloomington on August 5, 2017, they broke a window and threw a lit pipe bomb and a gasoline mixture inside, causing an explosion, fire and extensive damage. No one was injured in the attack, which happened just as morning prayers were about to begin, shaking members of the local Muslim community.

McWhorter, 29, and Morris, 23, of Clarence, Illinois, each pleaded guilty Thursday to five counts in connection with the attack, the attempted bombing of an abortion clinic, armed robberies and other crimes.

A third defendant, 47-year-old Michael Hari, whom prosecutors said directed the bombing, remains in federal custody in

The plea agreements portray Hari as the ringleader of a militia group called the White Rabbits, which included Hari, McWhorter, Morris and at least five other people. Hari's trial is set for July.

The guilty pleas of McWhorter and Morris came a day before three members of another militia were set to be sentenced for a foiled plot to massacre Muslims in southwest by blowing up a and apartments housing Somali immigrants. That attack, planned for the day after the November 2016 election, was thwarted after another member of the group tipped off authorities.

In the bombing, Hari allegedly picked Dar al-Farooq because it was far enough away from the White Rabbits' hometown that he thought they wouldn't be suspected. He also allegedly believed it was a focal point for terror recruiting, a claim that has not substantiated.

Morris' attorney, Robert Richman, said Morris merely followed the lead of Hari, a man he'd known as a father figure since he was 9.

"Hari essentially weaponized Joe Morris," Richman said.

McWhorter's attorney, Chris Madel, said: "Human beings are a lot more complicated than what some people believe, and Michael McWhorter's story has yet to be told." Morris and McWhorter could each face at least 35 years in prison.

Neither would say whether his client would cooperate or testify against Hari. Messages left with Hari's attorneys in Illinois and were not immediately returned.

The plea agreements say the men targeted the mosque to interfere with the free exercise of religion by Muslims and to let Muslims know they were not welcome in the

It's not clear how the White Rabbits became aware of Dar al-Farooq, but the mosque was in headlines in recent years: Some young people from Minnesota who travelled to to join the Islamic State group had worshipped there. Mosque leaders were never accused of any wrongdoing.

Jaylani Hussein, of the in Minnesota, said McWhorter and Morris wanted the Muslim community to be fearful and run away. "We're not going anywhere," he said.

According to the plea agreements, the men were headed toward Minnesota when Hari told McWhorter and Morris that he had a pipe bomb in the vehicle and they were going to bomb a mosque.

When the three arrived at Dar al-Farooq, Hari gave Morris a sledgehammer and told him to break a window, the plea agreements say. McWhorter then lit the fuse on the pipe bomb and threw it inside; Morris threw the gasoline mixture.

McWhorter and Morris also pleaded guilty to their roles in a failed attack on a Champaign, Illinois, abortion clinic in November 2017. A pipe bomb that Morris said he and Hari threw into the clinic did not explode.

The plea agreements say Hari, McWhorter, Morris and others also participated in an armed home invasion in Ambia, Indiana, and the armed robberies or attempted armed robberies of two stores in Illinois.

Morris and McWhorter also admitted to attempting to extort by threatening to damage tracks if the railroad didn't pay them money.

A fourth man, of Clarence, already pleaded guilty to two counts in Illinois. He's scheduled to be sentenced in April.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Fri, January 25 2019. 06:10 IST
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