Metro Detroit Muslims mourn New Zealand shooting victims
Metro Detroit's Muslim community on Friday mourned victims of mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that killed 49 people and local police say they are tightening security measures to prevent copycat attacks.
"We've (got) a very solid tactical plan and we're going to be watching all of our places of worship this weekend, we always do," said Dearborn Police Chief Ron Haddad, whose city has several mosques in and around it. "Given the heightened threat, it makes people feel a little vulnerable, and we want people to feel they're in a normal environment. "
Late Friday, hundreds of heads bowed in solemn prayer at the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn Heights to remember the lives of the lost. .
Steps away, Wayne County Sheriff's deputies and Dearborn police guarded the perimeter and monitored the site — a tacit reminder that, after the tragedy, safety is paramount at local houses of worship.
"They were gathered to pray, they were gathered to reflect and remember their lord," Imam Sayed Saleh Qazwini said of the New Zealand victims. "And they were killed in this heinous crime."
Dearborn Heights said Friday it's boosting security efforts to guard five mosques in its borders.
"We’re increasing police presence around the mosques in our city following the attack to safeguard any other incident and make residents feel comfortable," said Dearborn Heights Police Lt. Paul Erickson.
Dearborn Police Officer Dave Marshall said regional religious centers have been tactically trained for active shooter and bomb threat situations from the Department of Homeland Security.
"We try to protect and serve our 98,153 people every single day, and there's a lot of threats we have to face and this is just one of them," Haddad said. "We also have 200,000 people that come in and out of our city every day."
Security vehicles on Friday guarded entrances of the Islamic Center of America on Ford Road in Dearborn, the largest mosque in the United States. The center held an early morning prayer service where officials stated they strongly condemn the recent mass shooting, then convened an evening candlelight vigil to honor the victims.
"A house of worship is a sacred place of refuge and peace and should never be a place of fear or violence when people come together to pray," mosque officials said in a statement. "We thank our law enforcement authorities for their extra vigilance during this difficult time, and we ask our friends and community members to be cautious and report any suspicious activity they may encounter."
Imam Hassan Qazwini of the Islamic Institute in nearby Dearborn Heights said Friday that mosque officials have spoken with authorities about security. Qazwini also condemned the attacks and encouraged Muslim communities to remain vigilant, especially during Friday prayers.
"We call on the Australian authorities to intensify their search and bring the perpetrators to justice," he said. "We offer our condolences to the families of the victims, and pray for the quick recovery of those injured, and we pray that God showers the soul of the victims with his love and mercy."
The gunman behind at least one of the mosque shootings in New Zealand was a 28-year-old Australian white nationalist who left a manifesto behind that claimed he was angry about attacks in Europe that were perpetrated by Muslims.
During a candlelight vigil at the Dearborn Heights mosque, hundreds of community members gathered to mourn and decry the loss.
"This is a sad, sad day, not only for Islam but the whole world," Dave Abdallah, a mosque board member and Dearborn Heights city council member, told the crowd.
Imam Hassan Qazwini described the carnage as extending beyond religious identity. "It is about humanity. It is about human blood that is being shed."
The violence spurred mosque members to quickly coordinate the gathering
"It’s very important because when we have attacks on Muslims, we don't get the attention," said Nora Alghazaly, of Dearborn, who is active with the mosque’s Muslim Youth Connection. "If we come as a community, people will hear our voice and helpfully we’ll make a change."
Imams in southeast Michigan, including Qazwini and Mohammad Ali Elahi, included words of relief in their afternoon sermons for community members during Friday prayer.
Ali Elahi said Muslims in the area are shocked and saddened by the attacks and spoke about dealing with grief at the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights, where police also had a stepped-up presence.
Ali Elahi said when terror attacks happen with "so-called" Muslims involved, most are quick to condemn Islam and Muslim nations, but worshipers should not look at the white nationalist in the New Zealand attack as a representation of Christian faith.
"He's Christian, white, he is an extremist and a person of hatred. ... But remember that despite this, we as Muslim community never condemn Christianity because this criminal would never represent the loving values of Christianity, Jesus or the Bible," he said.
Members of the Christian faith could be seen sitting beside their Muslim neighbors while Ali Elahi read his sermon Friday.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, released a statement Friday expressing her grief over the tragedy and condemning "white supremacists" for a "violent" agenda.
“This morning I tried to hold back tears as I hugged my two brown, Muslim boys a little tighter and longer. The painful loss of life based on hate makes me so angry. I am so angry at those who follow the "white supremacy" agenda in my own country that sends a signal across the world that massacres like this is some kind of call to action," she said. "I hope that our children don't become numb to this, and that this is not their new normal.”
The American Arab Civil Rights League also denounced the New Zealand shooting.
"The senseless terrorist attack on Muslims while they worship peace and love reminds us once again that all faiths must come together to condemn and stand united against those that harbor hate in their heart," said Nabih Ayad, founder of the Dearborn-based league, in a statement.
Some Muslims in Dearborn attended the weekly Friday prayer earlier than usual. One mosque projected an image on the outside, encouraging passersby to come inside and pray for those killed.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, took to social media Friday to speak out against the attacks.
"Too many dead in #NZMosqueShooting," she tweeted. "Yet again one more act of hate and violence."
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer joined her.
"My heart goes out to the victims and families in New Zealand and Muslim communities around the world affected by the events in Christchurch," she said in a tweet.
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said he and the region's Catholic community are also saddened.
"I offer prayers and condolences to the Muslim community throughout the world, especially in New Zealand, as they mourn the horrific violence that unfolded Friday in two houses of worship," he said in a statement.
The country's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization also condemned the attacks and urged mosques in the United States and around the world to increase their security.
"We mourn the heartbreaking killings of men, women and children gathered for prayer in their houses of worship and urge leaders in our nation and worldwide to speak out forcefully against the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that appears to have motivated these white supremacist terrorists," said Nihad Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., said in a statement Friday.
Michigan State Police said Friday its Michigan Intelligence Operations Center continues to monitor the New Zealand attack. The center coordinates dissemination of information among law enforcement agencies and the private sector to combat terrorism and enhance public safety.
"While there appears to be no connection to Michigan it is good to remember that these events can happen anywhere," the state police tweeted Friday. "If you see something suspicious report it to law enforcement."
Associated Press contributed.