In August 2017, the pair say they threw a pipe bomb into the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Illinois.
Hoping to scare Muslims into leaving the United States, members of an
Illinois militia group rented a truck and drove more than 805km to bomb a
Minnesota mosque, two men admitted on Thursday.
Michael McWhorter and Joe Morris said that when they arrived at the Dar
al-Farooq Islamic Center 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 on Thursday to five counts in connection with the mosque attack,
the attempted bombing of an Illinois 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 Illinois.
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 Kansas by blowing up a mosque and
apartments housing Somali immigrants.
That attack, planned for the day after the November 2016 presidential
election, was thwarted after another member of the group tipped off
Anti-Muslim attacks have spiked since Donald Trump became US President, watchdog groups say.
The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) recorded 300 US hate
crimes targeting Muslims in 2017. That number marked a 15-percent
increase from 2016, when CAIR recorded 260 incidents targeting Muslims.
Muslims 'not going anywhere'
In the Minnesota mosque bombing, Hari allegedly picked Dar al-Farooq
because it was far enough away from the White Rabbits' central Illinois
hometown that he thought they wouldn't be suspected. He also allegedly
believed it was a focal point for "terrorism" recruiting, a claim that
law enforcement has not substantiated.
Morris's attorney, Robert Richman, said his client merely followed the
lead of Hari, a man he'd known as a father figure since he was nine
"Hari essentially weaponised 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 attorney would say whether his client would cooperate or testify
against Hari. Messages left with Hari's attorneys in Illinois and
Minnesota 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 United States.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR 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 towards 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
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
Robberies and foiled attacks
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 Walmart stores in Illinois
Morris and McWhorter also admitted to attempting to extort Canadian
National Railway by threatening to damage tracks if the railroad didn't
pay them money.
A fourth man, Ellis Mack of Clarence, already pleaded guilty to two counts in Illinois. He's scheduled to be sentenced in April.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an Alabama-based hate monitor,
identified 689 anti-government groups across the nation in 2017. Of that
total, 40 percent were militias.
In recent years, many militia groups have participated in far-right
rallies, including violent clashes with anti-fascists, and carried out
vigilante patrols on the US-Mexico border.
Earlier this week, three men and a high school student were arrested
over their alleged plans to attack Islamberg, a predominantly Muslim
community in upstate New York.
"If they had carried out this plot, which every indication is that they
were going to, people would have died," local Greece Police Chief
Patrick Phelan said.
"I don't know how many and who, but people would have died."
Islamberg was founded more than three decades ago by a group of black
Muslims who follow the teachings of Pakistani Sufi scholar Mubarik Ali
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, hate crimes across the country spiked by 17 percent in 2017.
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