Police Step Up Patrols Around County Mosques

Police Step Up Patrols Around County Mosques

Following killings in New Zealand, county offers grief counselors to congregations

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Montgomery County Police have increased patrols outside religious institutions in the county following shootings at two New Zealand mosques Friday that killed 50 people.

Officers will be vigilant while patrolling near mosques, as well as synagogues and churches, and will work with the groups, said Capt. Tom Jordan, a police spokesman, who would not say how long the stepped-up patrols will continue or provide other information about the number of patrols.

“Our vigilance does not have an expiration date,” Jordan said.

“Our houses of worship are sacred places, and we cannot allow them to become places of fear,” County Council President Nancy Navarro said in a statement issued late Friday that also said county grief counselors would be available “to aid community members who may need counseling.

“We stand ready to provide additional assistance as necessary to ensure that all of our residents are safe and can worship freely in our community,” Navarro’s statement said.

At the Islamic Society of the Washington Area in Silver Spring, close to 500 worshipers showed up for prayer Friday afternoon and two police cars with officers were present, Imam Faizul Khan said.

Friday is a traditional day of prayer in Islam, and the practice of midday Friday worship is one of the key tenets of the faith.

Khan said his congregation is “dismayed and very shocked” that such a shooting would occur in a city like Christchurch and New Zealand as a whole, as Muslims have lived in the country for years without experiencing comparable incidents.

He said the congregation feels generally at peace in Montgomery County, and that they have not experienced any hate incidents since the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“We had some incidents of people leaving dead animals in the parking lot, people calling,” he said. “But beyond that, we don’t really witness any alarming incidents that would cause us to get 24-hour protection.”

Montgomery was among 10 counties in the state with increases in reports of hate and bias crimes from 2016 to 2017 and nearly half were classified as anti-religious, according to a county police report.

“We always say that it is up to the government and law enforcement agencies to assess the security situation and ensure that all places of worship and all members of the public at large are as safe as possible from extremist attacks,” said Harris Zafar, national spokesman for Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA.

The organization, with 70 chapters nationwide, oversees the Baitur Rahman Mosque in Silver Spring, which also serves as its headquarters.

Zafar said security measures at their mosques include surveillance cameras and community volunteers who provide building security.

The county police department provides active shooter response training to schools, churches and business, through a program called C.R.A.S.E. – Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. The training has been in high demand, Jordan said.

“Just being a police officer for more than 24, 25 years now, you always ask yourself ‘could it happen here,’ and ‘what will we do,’ and ‘what can we do to stop it,’” Jordan said.

The County Council last year approved a $200,000 grant program to enhance security for faith organizations that have been targeted by hate crimes.

Khan said he believes the police should be a more frequent presence at mosques overall.

“They can show up more often … they should increase their surveillance of mosques and synagogues and churches, because there are some crazy fanatics out there.”

This story has been updated to reflect a higher death toll in the New Zealand killings; a 50th person died Saturday, according to reports.

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