Philadelphia police say that no threats to local mosques have been detected following the massacre of 49 Muslims at two mosques in New Zealand, but that officers are now visiting each Philadelphia congregation.
Members of the department’s Counter Terrorism Operations Unit will stop by all “known mosques” in the city, said Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a police spokesperson. Patrol officers will also visit the mosques while officials continue to confer with local, state, and federal law enforcement officials and monitor social media, Kinebrew said.
News of shootings that killed 49 people in Christchurch during Friday prayer services sent a wave of sadness throughout the local Muslim community.
“We grieve as one body," officials of Majlis Ash Shura of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley, a coalition of imams and mosques that represents local Muslims, said in a statement. The Muslim community would not be deterred from practicing its faith by “terrorist groups all over the world that seek the destruction of Islam and oppression of Muslims,” the statement said.
One man has been arrested and charged with murder, and three others (two men and one woman) also have been taken into custody in connection with shootings at Al Noor Mosque where 41 people were killed and Linwood mosque where seven were murdered. Another victim died at Christchurch Hospital.
During the massacre, a gunman streamed live video of the attack on Facebook, and a social media post believed to have been posted by one of the attackers contained a link to an 87-page manifesto that included anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim statements. The manifesto also condemned gun control efforts in the United States and cited inspiration from Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine people in 2015 at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C.
Local imams say they have increased security at their mosques.
“We demand that local, state, and federal agencies take any requests for assistance seriously, make them top priority, and not be dismissive, as we’ve seen in some cases," a statement from the Majlish Ash Shura leaders said.
Imam Numaan Cheema of Zubaida Foundation in Yardley first heard about the shooting Thursday night when it popped up on his Facebook feed. The shootings were still underway. He immediately began sharing information on social media with fellow imams from Dallas, New York, and San Francisco.
“We were hoping it wasn’t as tragic as it became,” Cheema said. Then, while looking for more information, he happened upon a clip posted from inside one of the mosques during the massacre. He turned it off as fast as his fingers would move, but not before seeing three seconds of horror.
“It was a time for families to come together and stand before God, and at that time, many didn’t know that would be the last time they would stand,” Cheema said.
Imam John Starling of Gracious Center of Learning and Enrichment Activities (GCLEA) in Cherry Hill said he would speak about the tragedy as part of his sermon during Friday services.
“I will address it in some way, but if we stop to talk about all tragedies in the world, even just those that affect the Muslim community, we’d be preaching every Friday about the same topic,” Starling said.
He called the series of recent deadly shootings at houses of worship (including nine dead in Charleston, 11 in Pittsburgh, 26 in Sutherland Springs, Texas, six in Wisconsin, and six in Quebec City) a “clear sign that nothing is sacred anymore and that hatred is infiltrating the hearts of many people in the world.”
Imam Tahir Wyatt of United Muslim Masjid in South Philadelphia heard about the massacre Thursday night in a social media message from a friend in Africa. Wyatt is in San Diego, where he is delivering a series of lectures.
He called for more law enforcement resources to be dedicated to monitoring right-wing extremists, whom he described as terrified of increasing religious and racial diversity, and who are afraid of becoming “a minority.”
Cheema said he feels compelled to reach out and educate others about Islam and its followers.