URBANA — Three Ford County men were charged Tuesday with bombing a Minnesota mosque last year in an effort to drive Muslims out of the U.S., and they and a fourth man also were charged with possession of a machine gun in Illinois.
Michael B. Hari, 47; Joe Morris, 22; Michael McWhorter, 29, all of Clarence, face one count each of arson in federal court, said U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Gregory G. Brooker. They and Ellis Mack, 18, also of Clarence, face a federal charge of possession of a machine gun, according to John E. Childress, U.S. attorney for the central district of Illinois.
The four were arrested by FBI agents Tuesday on the weapons charges and were in custody in Urbana. Hari was arrested as he was traveling to a court appearance in Ford County on unrelated assault charges.
The arrests were announced by Childress and FBI Special Agent Sean Cox of Springfield.
According to a 16-page probable cause statement filed in U.S. District Court in Urbana, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives received a tip Feb. 19 about potential bomb-making materials at the home of Hari's parents in Clarence.
Law enforcement also had received information in December from confidential sources who said Hari possessed guns and bomb-making materials, said the court filing.
A source told police in January that Hari, McWhorter and Morris were responsible for the Aug. 5, 2017, bombing of the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington, Minn., and the Nov. 7, 2017, attempted bombing at the Women's Health Practice in Champaign, according to the affidavit.
A PVC pipe bomb was thrown through the mosque window just before morning prayers, causing a fire that left extensive damage but no injuries, prosecutors said. An explosive device was thrown through the clinic window but failed to detonate, prosecutors said.
Four fully automatic weapons that met the federal definition for a machine gun were found by police at the home of McWhorter's brother, who told officers Hari and Morris had brought the weapons to his home several days earlier.
Hari allegedly told McWhorter's brother when he dropped off the guns, "The police will want to come talk to me; can I keep them here until I speak to them?" said the affidavit.
According to the prosecution, McWhorter admitted to his role in the bombing and attempted bombing incidents. The suspect told investigators he and the others did not intend to kill anyone in the mosque but wanted "to scare them (Muslims) out of the country."
In a March 10 police interview, Mack admitted to participating in a home invasion and robbery with the other suspects, authorities said.
The investigation is ongoing by the the FBI Springfield and Minneapolis divisions; University of Illinois Police Department; Ford County Sheriff's Department; Champaign Police Department; Illinois State Police and the ATF.
Hari described in an April 2017 Chicago Tribune article how he drafted a $10 billion plan to build a wall along the border with Mexico, citing President Donald Trump's call for such a wall. Hari drew up the proposal after launching a security company, Crisis Resolution Security Services, the newspaper said.
Hari also filed a federal lawsuit last month in Central Illinois, naming the U.S. secretaries of agriculture and health and human services as defendants. It accuses their departments of violating his constitutional rights by doing the food-safety certification work that his firm, Equicert, does.
"The People of the United States have rejected the Marxist doctrine that the government shall own the means of production," he wrote, according to the court document. He requested a court order barring federal officials from interfering with his business.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Muslim advocacy and civil liberties group Council on American-Islamic Relations, welcomed news of the arrests.
"This is definitely a relief that this case is finally to conclusion and those assailants-slash-suspects are apprehended and no longer a threat to our community," Hussein said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The Islamic Center primarily serves Somalis in the Minneapolis area and houses a mosque and religious school for children. Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community outside of east Africa, with an estimated 57,000 people, according to the most recent census estimates.
Mohamed Omar, the center's executive director, said at the time that the mosque didn't receive any threats beforehand or claims of responsibility afterward. The FBI had offered a $30,000 reward for information leading to a conviction in the bombing. It's unclear if the reward money will be paid.
Officials said at the time that witnesses saw someone throw something from a truck or van before the blast and saw a vehicle speed away afterward. Mosque leaders later released security video from inside the mosque that caught the moments before the explosion, and some smoke and flying debris. The video didn't show the blast itself.