Local Muslims welcome mosque arsonist’s guilty plea but say tensions are rising

Randolph Linn is behind bars, having pleaded guilty to federal arson and related crimes committed at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, but local Muslim leaders are concerned there may be more Linns out there.

“Yes, justice has been served and the Islamic center will be rebuilt and we will meet inside it and continue to do so. But the actual problem hasn’t been dealt with,” said S. Zaheer Hasan, a spokesman for the United Muslim Association of Toledo.

Police released this photo of a “person of interest” taken outside the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, where a fire was set on Sunday evening (Sept. 30). Authorities later arrested Randolph Linn, 52, of St. Joe, Ind.

“There's a bad feeling, first of all because of the environment which is becoming hateful,” he said. “Certainly politicians and so-called clergy members are driving nice, innocent people toward hatred instead of healing the community and building bridges. The arson attack was an isolated incident but it was a product of that hatred.”

Mahjabeen Islam, president of the Islamic Center, said it was “upsetting” to sit through Linn’s hearing on Wednesday (Dec. 19) in U.S. District Court in Toledo, during which the suspect pleaded guilty and vented his hatred of Muslims.

“It was terrible because he was guilty, but he has no remorse at all,” Islam said. “It was very apparent to everyone that he blamed the media, he blamed Fox News, he tried to blame alcohol. …”

Linn, 52, told U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary that he drank 45 beers in seven hours on Sept. 30 before spontaneously deciding, after seeing a wounded U.S. soldier on television, to get into his red Chevy Sonic and drive 82 miles from his home in St. Joe, Ind., to Perrysburg.

He took three firearms with him and stopped in Perrysburg to fill three gas containers, authorities said.

A former marine and a truck driver, Linn said in court that he had driven past the domed mosque at the junction of I-75 and I-475 many times.

According to Islam, when Zouhary asked Linn if knew any Muslims personally, he replied, “No, I only know what I hear on the radio and see on Fox News.”

He told the judge that Muslims are “going around killing us,” Islam said.

Zouhary told Linn that the attack on the mosque was an attack on all places of religion.

“You are no better than the terrorists or extremists you sought to punish,” the judge told Linn.

“Hate is a very difficult thing to deal with,” Islam said, “and to see that there is still so much hate is upsetting.”

She said it was evident to her that irresponsible media coverage fanned Linn’s hatred and his distorted view of her faith.

“My feeling is that the media needs to be more responsible. The combination of ignorance about Muslims and Islam, and hate and alcohol, and then whipping up all of this hatred in the media, is a lethal combination,” Islam said. “The media have a responsibility not just to report the news but to educate people that there is no faith, least and last of all Islam, that preaches violence and killing. As we repeat all the time, the Quran [Chapter 5, Verse 32] says that ‘killing one person is like killing all of humanity'.’”

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo was built in 1983, when the center moved from Toledo's central city. The mosque was founded in 1954. An arson fire damaged the interior of the mosque on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.

The Islamic Center of Greater Toledo was built in 1983, when the center moved from Toledo’s central city. The mosque was founded in 1954. An arson fire damaged the interior of the mosque on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012.

She said she feels that Americans' attitude toward Muslims has gotten worse in the last few years.

“Things have changed so much,” said Islam, a family physician. “I've lived in Toledo and the United States for 30 years and you can see it, you can feel the hate. The way people actually stare at us, I feel like I'm in Alabama before the civil rights movement.”

S. Mahseed Rehman, president of UMAT, also believes the media need to do a more balanced job in portraying world religions.

“Randy [Linn] had mentioned he didn’t know much about Islam at all and that what he learned is through the media. From what he said, it is a responsibility of the media to convey a correct message. They cannot convey a message of hate,” Rehman said. “It is hurting us as a nation.”

He pointed out that the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo has been in existence for more than 50 years and at its present location for nearly 30 years, and was never the victim of an arson attack until now.

Linn was initially charged with one count each of intentionally damaging religious property and using fire or explosives in commission of a felony.

On Tuesday (Dec. 18), a federal grand jury added a charge of using a firearm to commit a crime of violence.

Linn pleaded guilty to all three counts as part of a binding agreement and is likely to be sentenced to 20 years in prison in April.

He also will be required to pay a $250,000 fine and restitution that may exceed $1 million.

Damage to the mosque from the blaze and from water from the building’s sprinkler system and firefighters’ hoses is estimated at $1.5 million, Islam said, adding that the center's insurance policy is covering the expenses.

Renovations and repairs are on schedule to be completed by the end of March. In the meantime, members of the Perrysburg mosque are meeting for Friday prayers at a nearby indoor sports complex — with added security — and the center’s Islamic school holds classes at Owens Community College.

Islam said surveillance cameras showed Linn, wearing a camouflage hat and sweatshirt and carrying a pistol, walking through the mosque before pouring gasoline on the carpet in the main prayer room and igniting it. He also drank beer in the mosque, leaving an empty Pabst Blue Ribbon beer can in the women's hijab room, she said.

“The [center's] treasurer usually stays there until 6 o’clock and usually leaves his door open. Randy came in at 4:30. He was walking around with a gun in his left hand, and he had three more guns in the car. Three ladies had left 15 minutes before he came in,” Islam said.

“Had somebody been there, I dread to think about what could have happened because he had a gun. If people had been there, it might have been like the Sikh temple shooting [in Wisconsin when a gunman killed six people Aug. 5].”

She and other local Muslim leaders credited the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the  bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Perrysburg Township Police Department, and the State of Ohio Fire Marshal for capturing Linn just two days after the attack.

Steven Dettelbach, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said, “Religious freedom is at the core of our country, and we will continue to aggressively prosecute such hate crimes whenever and wherever the evidence warrants. This was a true joint effort to seek justice for these victims.”

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One Response to “Local Muslims welcome mosque arsonist’s guilty plea but say tensions are rising”

  1. Perrysburg mosque to celebrate 'Grand Reopening' after arson attack | Toledo Faith & Values

    […] Linn of St. Joe, Ind., drove to the Perrysburg mosque, poured gasoline on the prayer room carpet, and set it ablaze. He told U.S. Judge Jack Zouhary that he was drunk and angry at Muslims after seeing a TV news […]

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