Tuesday March 26, 2019
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What We Know So Far About the New Zealand Mosque Attack

Young children were among the 48 people wounded in the attack and were being treated for gunshot wounds

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Police cordon off the area in front of the Al Noor Mosque after a shooting in Christchurch on March 15, 2019. VOA

The victims

Forty-nine people were killed Friday in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called “an extraordinary act of violence.”

“Our gun laws will change,” Ardern promised in a news conference Saturday morning, local time. She said the shooter had five guns, two semi-automatic, all legally obtained.

Young children were among the 48 people wounded in the attack and were being treated for gunshot wounds. Forty-one people were killed at Al Noor Mosque and seven people were killed at Linwood Mosque, a 10-minute drive away. One person died later at a hospital.

The suspects

Three people were in custody. Ardern said none had been on security watch lists.​

A man suspected in at least one of the shootings appeared briefly in court Saturday. Brenton Tarrant, 28, was led by two armed guards into the court in Christchurch, where a judge read one charge of murder to him.

After the suspect left the court, the judge said that while “there is one charge of murder brought at the moment, it is reasonable to assume that there will be others.”

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Men leave the Islamic Cultural Center of New York under increased police security following the shooting in New Zealand, March 15, 2019, in New York. VOA

Television New Zealand identified Tarrant as being from Grafton, New South Wales, Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Tarrant was an Australian citizen and described the suspect as an “extremist right-wing violent terrorist.”

Tarrant worked as a personal trainer, according to the Australian Broadcasting Co. Tracy Gray, manager of a gym where Tarrant was employed, said he began traveling overseas in 2011, going to Europe and Asia, including North Korea. A photo published online by ABC shows Tarrant in Pakistan in 2018.

The attack

The gunman live-streamed the assault on Facebook from a head-mounted camera, and the footage showed how victims were killed inside one of the mosques. The shooter broadcast the footage live after publishing a manifesto in which he called immigrants “invaders.”

The manifesto said the shooter picked New Zealand for his attack to show that “nowhere in the world was safe.”

In a news conference Saturday morning, Ardern said Tarrant’s onslaught was cut short when he was apprehended.

“It was his intention to continue his attack,” the prime minister said.

Mosques closed, security tight

Ardern called the shooting a “terrorist attack,” and authorities advised all mosques in Christchurch to shut down until further notice.

Police were on high alert in Christchurch and elsewhere. The prime minister asked residents of Christchurch to stay home if possible Saturday.

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People gather at a vigil to mourn for the victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand, at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, March 15, 2019. VOA

Reaction in US

New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Rosemary Banks, told VOA that she grew up in Christchurch. She said she was “shocked and saddened by this abhorrent act.”

U.S. President Donald Trump extended condolences on Twitter to New Zealanders and said, “The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do.”

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen later said U.S. authorities were monitoring the situation and that “attacks on peaceful people in their place of worship are abhorrent and will not be tolerated. The department strongly stands with those of all faiths as they seek to worship in peace.”

Global response

The attack was condemned around the globe, with leaders from Pakistan, Turkey, Britain, Germany, Israel, Jordan, Japan and the European Union all sending their condolences and offering support to New Zealand.

ALSO READ: US Muslims Feel Threatened After Open Fire at Two NZ Mosques

The victims of Friday’s shooting included immigrants from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Violent crime rare in New Zealand

Mass shootings, and violent crime in general, are rare in New Zealand, a country of nearly 5 million people. Until Friday, the country’s worst mass shooting occurred in 1990 when a lone gunman killed 13 people in the small town of Aramoana. (VOA)

Next Story

Muslims in New York Begin Community Safety Patrol

Patrolling the streets is just one aspect of the group’s mission. Its guiding principle is mentorship

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Nazrul Islam, imam of Muslim Community Patrol & Services (MCPS), says Brooklynites have demonstrated their support for the patrol. “They see us and they know who we are,” Islam said. VOA

On March 14, New York City Muslims were putting their families to bed when details emerged of a mass shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, about 15,000 kilometers away. A white supremacist had targeted Friday prayer. Fifty were dead, including refugees, women and children; one as young as three.

Brooklyn residents Mohammad Khan and Nazrul Islam were returning from a leadership dinner when they heard.

“We stopped our car, we parked, and we were just in tears,” Khan said. “Me and the imam — we were just devastated.”

For months, Khan and Islam, an imam and a Quranic school principal, had been working on the rollout of an all volunteer-led civilian patrol organization, Muslim Community Patrol & Services (MCPS). “MCPS is aimed at protecting members of the local community from escalating quality-of-life nuisance crimes,” its website says.

Its mission took on added relevance after the attack in New Zealand.

Traumatized members of the community, who had seen video of the attack on social media, sought help from MCPS at local vigils and rallies. The organization responded with trained counselors and chaplains.

‘Here for everyone’

On a white-and-blue emblazoned Ford Taurus, a seal matching the style and color scheme of the New York Police Department (NYPD) identifies the MCP volunteer unit. Above it, the words “Assalamu alaikum” are inscribed in Arabic. “Peace be upon you.”

Patrolling the streets is just one aspect of the group’s mission. Its guiding principle is mentorship, said Khan, MCPS’ director of community affairs. Mentorship can be provided in person or by phone, 24/7, with the aim of bridging the community across religious, ethnic and language divides. New York is one of the most diverse cities in the world.

“If an immigrant came to this country from an Arabic-speaking country — and they might be in trouble or they need help — and they see Assalamu alaikum,” Islam, 28, explained, “they’ll definitely know there are Muslim people in that car, so they can come and they can ask us if they need anything.”

MCPS’ 50-plus volunteers are never armed, and they are trained to deal with crises including drug abuse, financial woes, depression and suicide prevention. They are trained in first aid, mental health, chaplaincy and basic security. Every Friday they deliver meals to the homeless in midtown Manhattan. Serving both Muslims and non-Muslims, they speak English, Arabic, Bangla, Urdu, Hindi and “some Polish.”

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Mahwish Fathma, director of operations for MCPS, says other civilian patrol groups in Brooklyn have served as an inspiration for the group. VOA

Vital to their success, they work in collaboration with NYPD, whose off-duty officers led a recent training in Sunset Park.

“Once people see our work, [they’ll see that] we’re here to help,” said Mahwish Fathma, MCPS’ director of operations. “We’re here to give. That’s all.”

Fathma, a 22-year-old Muslim-American of mixed Pakistani and Cambodian heritage, remembers earlier patrols, the 1970s-established Shomrim, a volunteer Hasidic Jewish civilian patrol, and the more recently formed Brooklyn Asian Civilian Observation Patrol (BACOP) — both based in Brooklyn.

“I always thought, ‘Why don’t Muslims have that? Everyone should have this,’” Fathma said. “Dealing with your own families or your own communities, it’s different. It’s always different.”

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Hongmiao Yu, a volunteer with BACOP, says his young daughter likes seeing him come home in uniform. “It makes me very proud,” Yu said. VOA

Lessons from their counterparts

Four avenues across from MCPS’ makeshift office, a cohort of Mandarin-language volunteers don “Brooklyn Asian COP” jackets at the group’s headquarters, a red-walled basement that contains a bar, gym, ping-pong table and wicker lawn chairs.

Hongmiao Yu, a local pharmacy owner, joined BACOP after a burglary at his business left employees shaken. On days, he volunteers, he doesn’t return home until after 2 a.m. To avoid waking his young children on the second floor, he sleeps downstairs.

“We’re all Chinese immigrants, so I wanted to do something for this community,” Yu said.

“The more civilian patrols we have, the more beneficial it is for the communities,” said BACOP’s chairman, Louie Liu. “As long as we are serious and sincere in our cooperation with local law enforcement, we’re confident that crimes will go down, [and] our living conditions will improve.”

Getting past the language barrier has been essential for the group. Members speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Fujianese and “Spanish-Chinese,” according to Liu. Over the past five years, he says Brooklyn’s Chinatown, home to more than 200,000 ethnic Chinese residents, has made strides in its relationship with law enforcement as a result of BACOP.

“We enable immigrants to express themselves without any fear or concern, and law enforcement has confidence in the role that we’re playing,” Liu said.

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Louie Liu, left, chairman of Brooklyn Asian Civilian Observation Patrol (BACOP), says the Chinese community’s relationship with law enforcement has improved since the patrol began five years ago. VOA

Evolving relationship

Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Intelligence Project, sees the potential for law enforcement to restore trust among immigrant and Muslim communities, which are increasingly the targets of U.S. hate crimes, the majority of which are not reported to the police.

“If the cops take hate crime seriously and work with the community, it can show those communities that they care about them, and that they really exist to protect them,” Beirich told VOA.

According to FBI statistics, 59.6 percent of hate crime victims in 2017 were targeted because of race, ethnicity or ancestry bias, while an additional 20.6 percent were targeted based on their religion.

“Realistically, it’s impossible to eliminate racism, so there has to be an organization speaking on our behalf,” said Tony Jiang, a fish market owner in Sunset Park.

Down the street, MCPS members brush off the accusations and name-calling the group has received on social media: “Sharia Patrol,” “an Islamic invasion on the West,” “the worst-case scenario of multiculturalism,” coupled with slurs and death threats.

Islam, who was born in Bangladesh but moved to East New York when he was 10, recalls the bullying of his Brooklyn childhood. Headed home from mosque as a young boy, he says children would throw eggs at him and others. Once they removed his brother’s taqiyah (cap) and beat him up, sending him to the hospital.

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“I’ve seen a lot of hate growing up, and it’s ugly,” Islam said.

The Sunset Park community in Brooklyn he adds, has thrown its weight behind them today: “they see us and they know who we are.”

Adds Khan, “Our actions speak louder than our words.” (VOA)