Chicago Muslims Stunned By New Zealand Attacks | WBEZ
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Chicago Muslims Stunned By New Zealand Attacks

Updated 5:10 p.m.

Many Chicago-area Muslims gathered at mosques Friday afternoon to share prayers and their grief in the wake of terrorist attacks at two New Zealand mosques. The massacres left at least 49 dead and wounded scores more.

“We can’t abandon our mosques or prayer spaces; we have to show up,” said Khadija Ahmed, vice president of the Muslim Community Center of Chicago, or MCC. Ahmed was attending Friday prayer services at the MCC mosque in Morton Grove. “We have to be strong, we have to hold it together and pray for the victims as well. I think it’s important for us to keep doing what we normally do and heal together and get together as community.”

Security at MCC’s campus was heightened on Friday. Ahmed and other MCC leaders said they increased the private security detail at their three campuses in Morton Grove, Skokie and Chicago. Additionally, they had spoken with law enforcement agencies in all three localities to ramp up police patrols during the afternoon services.

“Over the weekend, over the next few days, I think we have to reassess our security measures ongoing, because these attacks are happening when no one is expecting them,” Ahmed said.

Esther Kang/WBEZ
In addition to the private security company that the Muslim Community Center of Chicago hires (shown here), it also arranged with the Morton Grove Police Department to do additional patrols of the area during worship time Friday afternoon.

The Chicago Police Department released a statement saying "special attention" would be given to local mosques as a precaution Friday, with increased police presence.

The department also offered its condolences to people affected by the New Zealand shootings that killed more than 40 and wounded dozens in what the New Zealand government called a terrorist attack.

"I think all places of worship need to increase their security,” Sohel added. “Unfortunately, we're living in a time of heightened hate and violence, especially targeted at religious groups and other disenfranchised groups, and all of these institutions need to take more care.”

Some local Muslim leaders vowed to continue prayer services despite shock over the shootings and heightened safety concerns.

The mosque attacks brought statements or demonstrations of support from leaders and members of other faiths in the Chicago region.

“As soon as we heard about this, I reached out to our friends here at the MCC — people who I’ve gotten to know and feel close to — and said, ‘Could we come and express our solidarity and support as you enter for prayer?’” said Rabbi Ari Hart of Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob, an Orthodox synagogue. He and about a dozen others from Jewish synagogues across the northern suburbs formed a line outside MCC as worshipers walked outside. They gave hugs to Muslim worshipers who walked outside, and held up signs expressing sympathy and solidarity.

Odette Yousef/WBEZ
Representatives from Jewish organizations express their sympathies and solidarity with worshippers leaving Friday prayer services at the Muslim Community Center in Chicago's Morton Grove campus on Friday.

Hart said he can never forget that after 11 people were killed by a gunman at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Muslim supporters were among the first to express support.

“It’s very raw; it’s very emotional,” said Hart. “We’ve been through this trauma in Pittsburgh, they’re experiencing it now in New Zealand. It’s a common enemy; it’s a common fear. That fear of being vulnerable in your house of worship, the place where you want to feel most safe.”

Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich released a statement condemning the attacks. "With a heavy heart, I call upon all of the parishes of the Archdiocese of Chicago to offer prayers for those who died in New Zealand and for their Muslim neighbors here in Cook and Lake counties," Cupich said.

At the Downtown Islamic Center on South State Street in Chicago, G. Abdullah Mitchell mourned the tragedy in New Zealand.

"For so many people to have lost their lives in a place of refuge, a place of worship, to be gunned down, defenseless, it hurts and it makes you angry," said Mitchell, executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings left a 74-page manifesto that he posted on social media under the name Brenton Tarrant, identifying himself as a 28-year-old Australian and white nationalist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

Using what may have been a helmet camera, he livestreamed to the world in graphic detail his assault on worshippers at Christchurch's Al Noor Mosque, where at least 41 people were killed. An attack on a second mosque in the city not long after killed several more.

"The question we really ask ourselves is, how do you really prevent this kind of stuff?" said Kamran Hussein, president of the Muslim Community Center. "Because even with all the security that you're doing, if you saw the video, I don't even know how someone could have prevented him doing what he did with the type of gun that he had."

Mitchell said one of the concerns of local Muslims is the possibility of copycat attacks.

"Some may now feel emboldened to do this because they saw it was done somewhere else. And particularly at venues were people are ill-equipped and [not expecting] such kind of violence to be levied against them," he said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement, saying, "An attack on any place of worship is an attack on all places of worship."

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin also released a statement: "We must all stand together in solidarity with the Muslim community in America and in opposition to anyone who tries to divide us from our brothers and sisters of every faith."

The Associated Press contributed to this reporting.

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