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Terrorism cell linked to crimes in Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana

New federal charges shed light on a cell of suspected domestic terrorists known as the “White Rabbits” who allegedly were involved in assorted crimes, including firearms violations and fire-bombings of an Islamic Center and a women’s health clinic.

Additionally, the suspects have been linked by federal investigators to robbing Walmart stores and drug dealers to fund their campaign of domestic terrorism, bombing Canadian National railroad tracks and extortion of the railway company.

Michael Hari, 47, Michael McWhorter, 29 and Joe Morris, 22, all of Clarence, Illinois, were named in a superseding indictment returned Thursday in Minnesota, charging them with federal civil rights and hate crime violations related to an explosion at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center (DAF) in Bloomington, Minnesota, on August 5, 2017.

The three men, along with Ellis Mack, 18, also of Clarence, Illinois, were arrested on March 13 and currently are in custody in Urbana, Illinois, on federal charges of illegally possessing a machine gun and conspiracy to interfere with commerce by threats and violence. Hari is also charged with possession of a firearm by a felon.

The federal conspiracy charge filed in the Central District of Illinois is related to an alleged attempt to damage by fire and explosive the Women’s Health Practice, in Champaign, Illinois, on November. 7, 2017, court documents say.

The Illinois indictment alleges that the four conspired from August 2017 to March 10, 2018, to affect commerce by robbery and extortion by actual or threatened “force, violence and fear.”

Last August, the indictment says the conspirators formed a “militia group” that became known as the “White Rabbits.” Its members obtained explosive materials, provided weapons and uniforms to members and assigned ranks to its members. Items, including weapons, belonging to the militia group were kept in a building located in Clarence, Illinois.

“On multiple occasions, the conspirators met in Clarence and agreed to perform what they referred to as ‘jobs’ or criminal acts to promote the conspiracy and to fund the group,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.

The co-conspirators traveled together from Clarence to the locations of their jobs and sometimes used rented vehicles to avoid detection by law enforcement, the statement said.

The indictment cites several acts allegedly committed to further the conspiracy, including:

 • Robbing or attempting to rob Walmart stores, including but not limited to stores in Watseka, Illinois, on December 4, 2017, and Mt. Vernon, Illinois., on December 17, 2017;

• Robbing or attempting to rob individuals suspected of being involved in drug trafficking, including but not limited to individuals in Ambia, Indiana., on December 16, 2017.

• Damaging or attempting to damage Canadian National Railway railroad tracks located near Effingham, Illinois, by an explosive device on or about January 7, 2018, and then attempting to extort money from the railroad by threatening additional attempts to damage the tracks if the railroad did not pay a ransom.

• Planting materials that could be used to make explosives devices on the property of a person in Clarence, Illinois, on or about February 8, 2018, to deflect law enforcement suspicion from the conspirators to the property owner.

The indictment alleges Hari, having a previous felony conviction in Illinois, possessed four AR-style platform rifles with no serial numbers and four 12-gauge shotguns.

In the latest federal indictment returned in Minnesota, it is alleged that Hari constructed a pipe bomb and rented a pickup truck in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Hari, McWhorter and Morris then drove from Illinois to Bloomington, Minnesota, in the pickup truck, stopping along the way to purchase diesel fuel and gasoline. The defendants mixed these ingredients together in a plastic container.

The indictment alleges that, in the early morning of August 5, 2017, Morris broke a window at DAF and threw the plastic container containing the diesel fuel and gasoline mixture into the building. It is alleged that McWhorter then lit the fuse and threw the pipe bomb in the broken window at the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.

When the pipe bomb exploded, it ignited the mixture in the plastic container, causing extensive damage to the imam’s office. McWhorter and Morris returned to the pickup truck, where Hari was waiting, and sped off, driving back to Illinois, the indictment alleges.

The defendants targeted the Islamic center “with intent to damage the mosque because of its religious character and with intent to obstruct Muslims from worshipping there,” the Justice Department said in a statement.  The facility serves as a religious center and as a school for children.

In related court documents, one of the suspects said the “White Rabbits” didn’t intend to kill anyone, but wanted to “scare [Muslims] out of the country and to show them, ‘Hey, you’re not welcome here…’”

Erica H. MacDonald, the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota, said in a statement that the defendants “plotted and executed a plan designed specifically to spread fear and threaten a fundamental right afforded to all — the freedom of religion.”

“In spite of the destructive and violent act alleged in the indictment, our communities have found strength in taking a unified stand against the attack,” MacDonald said. “My office and our law enforcement partners are committed to upholding the laws that protect the civil rights of all Americans.”

Photo credit AP Images

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