Security increases at Columbus mosque after New Zealand attacks

Police have increased security at the Islamic Center of Columbus Indiana in the wake of terrorist attacks at two mosques in New Zealand that killed at least 49 people.

Columbus police are not aware of any current threats being directed at the Muslim community locally, said Sgt. Alyson M. Eichel, Columbus Police Department spokeswoman.

“We are going to be increasing patrols at the ISCI in light of the tragic events in New Zealand,” she said. “We are working closely with members of ISCI to monitor the situation.”

Sharif Aljoaba, president of local Islamic Center, said police officers were stationed in the vicinity of the center on Friday, which helped make worshippers feel safer during Friday’s sermon.

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“I have seen police officers at the corners surrounding our center,” he said. “We assured the community that our police department will be helping us.”

The attack in New Zealand on Friday has impacted the local Muslim community as well as Muslims worldwide, said Hanna Omar, member of the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals and employee at JP Morgan Chase Bank.

“It’s a huge tragedy in the Muslim community in New Zealand and the Muslim community around the world and humanity in general,” she said.

Founded in 2006, the Islamic Center of Columbus Indiana participates in many interfaith activities, including a monthly Muslim-Christian breakfast at Blackerby’s Hangar 5 Restaurant. The meet-up at the restaurant is open to the public.

“For the last few years, we have been interacting with friends and neighbors from different faiths, through some interfaith dialogues and other activities like the monthly breakfast with different denominations of Christianity,” Aljoaba said. “We receive a lot of support and solidarity from the leaders of these churches as well as other friends of the (Muslim) community.”

Anti-mosque activity in the United States has increased in recent years, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which tracks such incidents. The ACLU reported that there have been at least six incidents in Indiana since February 2016, including bullet holes being fired into the sign for the Islamic Society of North America in Plainfield in June 2016.

The Columbus mosque is in near-downtown Columbus is in a building that in previous years housed the Cathedral of Praise Church of God and the Reformed Presbyterian Church. There was a break-in reported in May 2014 and profanity and some anti-Muslim comments were found written on a dry erase board in a classroom.

That incident was reported to police, but those who attend the mosque said then they wanted it to be treated low-key because of some concern that public comments could trigger additional incidents.

Columbus police confirmed an “information” police report was filed about the incident May 18, 2014. Police said there was no forced entry found in the incident.

Omar said the Columbus Islamic Center has received hateful phone calls in the past, and there have been instances of hateful notes being left on worshippers’ cars while they were inside the center praying.

In the New Zealand shootings, the The Associated Press reports that at least one gunman opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing at least 49 people inside and wounding 20 others in what authorities described as a coordinated terrorist attack.

As of Friday afternoon, New Zealand authorities said four people — three men and one woman — were in custody, including a man in his late 20s who has been charged with murder. He is scheduled to appear in court today.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was one of New Zealand’s “darkest days.”

“When stuff like this happens, we definitely don’t feel safe,” Omar said of the New Zealand tragedy. “We’re on guard again. For the next couple of weeks, we’ll have our guards up.”