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Police seek man charged with arson at Somali-owned restaurant

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Grand Forks police are looking for a 25-year-old man they believe set fire to a Somali-owned restaurant last week.

Matthew Gust of East Grand Forks was charged Friday with arson, court records show, but investigators say they don't know where he is, according to a news release.

He was still at large Sunday afternoon, the Star Tribune says.

Investigators are asking anyone with information about where he may be or his movements in the days surrounding the fire at the Juba Coffee House and Restaurant to contact the Grand Forks Police Department, the release says.

Police believe a 40-ounce beer bottle filled with gasoline was thrown through the window of the restaurant, WDAY says, but police have said they don't want to speculate on the reason why the fire was started until they talk to Gust, the Grand Forks Herald reports.

However, many in the community are calling it a hate crime. The fire occurred days after the restaurant's Somali-American owners found it vandalized with graffiti including the words “go home” and a symbol used in Nazi Germany.

Police are investigating whether the incident is connected to the fire, and the FBI has confirmed it is investigating to determine if any federal laws were broken, the Grand Forks Herald adds.

Support for the owners

Hours after the fire caused an estimated $90,000 in damage to the restaurant, Grand Forks Mayor Michael R. Brown released a statement of support for the shop’s owners, saying “As a community, we come to the aid of our friends and neighbors who are hurting and we rally around them. It is part of who we are and we will do it again.”

And the community has also shown their support for the owners and the Muslim community, holding a vigil last week to assure Muslims they are welcome in the city, the Grand Forks Herald says.

An online fundraising campaign for Juba has received more than 500 donations and has surpassed its $20,000 fundraising goal.

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