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Phoenix mosque leader condemns ideologies of New Zealand shooter

(KTAR News/Jim Cross)

PHOENIX — The leader of a Phoenix mosque condemned the so-called “right wing” extremist ideologies that were believed to have inspired a series of mass shootings on the Muslim places of worship in New Zealand on Friday.

“It needs to be recognized that far right-wing fringes — these are terrorist groups and governments need to watch them and they need to protect their citizens from them,” Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, told KTAR News 92.3 FM. 

“Not only are Muslims targeted, Jews are targeted, other minorities, blacks, Hispanics, Sikh minorities. This shouldn’t happen in 2019.”

At least 49 people were killed and dozens more were injured in mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch full of worshipers attending Friday prayers.

One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist.

Two other armed suspects were being held in custody. Police said they were trying to determine how they might be involved.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” and that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Ardern said.

After his mosque had been vandalized and targeted in the past by “armed demonstrators,” Shami said one of his first moves after learning of the shootings was to contact Phoenix police and secure extra patrols at mosques.

“It is sad because people need to be safe and they need to feel safe when they come to a house of worship,” he said.

“Things like this impact the congregation,” Shami said, adding that some of the congregation are refugees. “They haven’t been in the States for a long time so some of them, they get scared when they hear things like this.”

Ardern alluded at a news conference to anti-immigrant sentiment as the possible motive, saying that while many people affected by the shootings may be migrants or refugees, “they have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us.”

As for the suspects, Ardern said, “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand.”

Shami said attacks like the ones in New Zealand and the Tree of Life mosque shooting in Pittsburgh last October, where 11 people were killed and seven were injured, are forcing people to be on high alert when in places of worship.

“Every Friday we go through the same thing,” Shami said. “You never know who comes through that door.”

“It is sad that people come here to worship and to strengthen their connection with God and to meditate, so when they come with that fear they don’t concentrate on that spiritual healing.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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