In an increasing trend of anti-Muslim violence, a Somali Muslim-owned cafe in Grand Forks, North Dakota, was defaced with Nazi graffiti and then burned to the ground on Friday, according to a report from the Daily Beast. The Juba Coffee House And Restaurant was vandalized two days before it was firebombed, with a Nazi SS logo spraypainted on the window and the words “go home” underneath.
Police were investigating the incident when 25-year-old Matthew Gust threw a molotov cocktail, a 40-ounce Bud Light bottle filled with gasoline, through the window of the cafe, causing about $90,000 in damages according to the Grand Forks Herald. The FBI has opened an investigation. Police are currently searching for Matthew Gust, who has been charged with arson, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years in jail, and a judge has signed a warrant for Gust’s arrest.
According to Grand Forks police, they fingered Matthew Gust as the arsonist after a tip from a local resident who had overheard Gust saying something like “I blew up that place on the south end.” Evidence seized from his car and several security videos corroborated his guilt.
It is currently undetermined if Gust was responsible for the graffiti; if not, police still have to track down the perpetrator. Gust has a minor criminal history which includes threatening employees at a local adult video store, Romantix, which resulted in his being tasered and arrested. He later pleaded guilty to charges of terrorizing, simple assault and preventing arrest.
The Grand Forks Police Department have asked anyone with information on Gust’s whereabouts to contact them at (701) 787-8004, or text 847411 with the word “Tipster.”
Meanwhile, local Muslim refugee communities are living in fear. According to Chuck Haga, a retired journalist who works with Global Friends (an organization that helps refugees to assimilate into the local community,) about 100 refugees a year from Somalia, Bhutan, Burundi, and Iraq come to Grand Forks.
“These people, they’ve got nothing and all they want is a safe place to raise their kids. The Bhutanese especially are just overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity. Many of them have spent as much as 20 years in refugee camps, never having lived in their own country.”
Nobody was injured in the fire, and Ilhaam Hassam, one of the owners of the family-owned restaurant, says she is determined to rebuild. The Juba was the only Somali restaurant in the area. Other businesses in the building were also damaged by the attack.
Elsewhere, as per a report from Raw Story, a New York man has been taking into custody for assaulting employees in the Salt & Pepper restaurant.
Robert Murino, 26, was arrested after he began asking restaurant employees from Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh how they felt about ISIS. Staffer Tahir Mahood attempted to calm Murino down. Murino responded by leaning across the counter and slapping Mahood,
Witnesses say that the altercation started after Murino started asking Mahood “Why don’t you tell me your religion?” and calling him a “Muslim m**********r.”
After the slap, a brawl commenced between Murino and restaurant employees, resulting in his being rejected from the restaurant – only to barge back in and begin smashing the restaurant’s glass dividers with chairs, before walking back out. Police indicated that they arrested him shortly thereafter at another nearby restaurant after he was identified by employees. Murino has a prior arrest and was released Thursday on $1,000 bail.
These attacks, and other incidents across the country, have been called part of a growing pattern of hate crimes against Muslims, or people who are perceived to be Muslims in a statement released by the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
[AP Photo /TT, Pontus Stenberg, File]