PALMDALE — There was extra security Friday around mosques in the Antelope Valley after terror attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killed 49 people and wounded dozens more.
At least three people were arrested in connection with the mass shootings, one of whom has been charged with murder, according to news reports. One of the suspected terrorists streamed live video of the attack to Facebook.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the attacks as “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and warned people not to share any disturbing video.
An armed guard stood Friday afternoon outside the American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley on Palmdale Boulevard. A Sheriff’s patrol vehicle with a deputy inside was also parked in the institute’s lot.
Kamal Al-Khatib, president and co-founder of the mosque, expressed concern Friday about copycat attacks inspired by the suspected who reportedly had white supremacist symbols on his weapons.
“We have to take any measures, especially when it’s (in the news),” Al-Khatib said.
Al-Khatib added he worked closely with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to get their feedback and opinion. He also wanted to make sure there was a law enforcement presence at the mosques in Lancaster and Santa Clarita.
“We’ll act according to the need,” Al-Khatib said. “We’re not going to spare any money to save our brothers and sisters, All the money in the world is worth one of them getting injured.”
Al-Khatib added: “God help us. We’re getting discrimination everywhere, in education and local government.”
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced that Sheriff Alex Villanueva reached out to the New Zealand Consul General, as well as Muslim faith leaders throughout the county to express his condolences.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of New Zealand as they work to deal with the challenging and troubling circumstances created by these horrific attacks,” the department said in a statement. “Our level of vigilance is increased at mosques and Muslim cultural centers across the County of Los Angeles.”
“We pray for the victims of the mass shootings that occurred on Friday, March 15, at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque and stand in solidarity with the New Zealand Muslim community as they go through this tragedy,” the Muslim Public Affairs Council said in a statement Friday. “The victims of this act of mass violence were innocent people gathered for their congregational prayers, just as those in Quebec, Pittsburgh and Charleston were.
“This type of violence is a direct result of individuals and politicians who exploit social divisions in order to foment fear and hate. Violence of this kind is unacceptable in any country and should be collectively rejected. Nobody should be made to fear to practice their faith or attend their place of worship.
“As we work together to meet the demand of this moment, we call on our elected officials to use their platforms to stand together with the American Muslim community, and to stand tall against hate speech. We must deal with the rise of white nationalist terrorism and the threat it poses to our national and human security.”
The Islamic Center of Southern California planned to offer a prayer in absentia for the victims Friday at its Vermont Avenue location. Omar Ricci, board chairman at the center, grieved for the lost lives Friday, but also tried to link the attack to the political climate in the United States.
“When they were vulnerable, when they were least expecting it, they were attacked. And it is in that moment that 49 of our brothers and sisters’ humanity lost their earthly lives,” Ricci said.
“(As Muslims,) we believe that those who perished are now in paradise and God knows best. By now, the attackers and their motives are clear: hate of Islam, hate of immigrants, pursuit of white supremacy, manifested in terror and murder. Today, we have seen evil on Earth, evil that was premeditated and inspired. The manifesto of the terrorists make that fact abundantly clear. And the fact that these terrorists drew inspiration from the white supremacist movement here in the United States, who hailed our president, Donald Trump, should be yet another reason for us, as Americans, to have chills down our spine. What is our country becoming, and what is it exporting abroad?”
“We call upon President Trump to rescind his statement that Islam hates us.”
City News Service contributed to this story.
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