Faith leaders call for love, not divisiveness, following St. Cloud attack

A knife attack on a St. Cloud mall is prompting threats and hate speech against Somali-Americans living in St. Cloud.

Since the incident Saturday night, St. Cloud Police confirmed they have received reports of threats and intimidation.

"What I know about St. Cloud is this: No matter who fear-mongers, yells racial epithets, or has myopic ideas about people who are different--it is not representative of this community at large," said St. Cloud Police Chief Wm. Blair Anderson

St. Cloud has struggled with Islamophobia in the last five to ten years, as the Somali population has grown to several thousand. Some estimate they represent 10 percent of the St. Cloud population.

"It's like a house," said Haji Yussuf of anti-islamophobia group Unite Cloud. "It was being built, we were working on it, we were about to finish it and then there is a storm that comes and just blows away the roof and takes out the windows."

Unite Cloud started more than a year ago as a response to anti-Muslim sentiment among some St. Cloud-area residents. The group does a lot of community outreach and education, helping people of different race and religion understand and get to know Muslim members of the community.

Yussuf and the group's founder, Natalie Ringsmuth, say the fallout from Saturday's mall attack has been a setback in all the progress they've made, as a witness told police the suspect said something about "Allah" and asked a victim if they were Muslim before assaulting them. The Islamic State has since claimed responsibility for the attack.

"A lot of people have worked so hard to build for so many years. We don't want to lose that. It's important we don't lose that," said Yussuf.

But Ringsmuth said despite seeing Islamophobic rhetoric online, and hearing about possible intimidation toward Somalis in her community, she's inspired by the greater response.

A dozen leaders of various faiths gathered outside St. Cloud City Hall Monday and preached love and inclusiveness, as Ringsmuth works toward a world free of Islamaphobia.

"Unite Cloud was not about solving the issues of St. Cloud in one year, we have a decade long version of what we want to do to build peace," said Ringsmuth.