Saturday May 25, 2019
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Terrorists Attack Two Mosques of New Zealand, Nearly 50 Killed

One man has been charged with murder in the attacks and will appear in court Saturday

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

Mass shootings at two mosques full of worshipers attending Friday prayers killed 49 people on what the prime minister called “one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” as authorities detained four people and defused explosive devices in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack.

One man has been charged with murder in the attacks and will appear in court Saturday, police say.

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Arrest Made in Attack on 2 New Zealand Mosques. VOA

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence” and acknowledged many of those affected may be migrants and refugees. In addition to the dead, she said 48 people were being treated for gunshot wounds, more than 20 were seriously wounded.

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

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New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks on live television following fatal shootings at two mosques in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. VOA

Police took three men and a woman into custody after the shootings, which shocked people across the nation of 5 million people. While there was no reason to believe there were more suspects, Ardern said the national security threat level was being raised to the second-highest level.

Authorities have not specified who they detained, but said none had been on any watch list. A man who claimed responsibility for the shootings left a 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto in which he explained who he was and his reasoning for the attack. He said he was a 28-year-old white Australian and a racist. Television New Zealand (TVNZ) identified him as Brenton Tarrant from Grafton, New South Wales.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that one of the four people detained was an Australian-born citizen.

Ardern at a news conference alluded 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.”

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New Zealand police Commissioner Mike Bush speaks to the media after an attack on a mosque in Christchurch at the Royal Society building in Wellington, March 15, 2019. VOA

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said police were not aware of other suspects beyond the four who were detained but they couldn’t be certain.

“The attackers were apprehended by local police staff. There have been some absolute acts of bravery,” Bush said. “I’m hugely proud of our police staff, the way they responded to this. But let’s not presume the danger is gone.”

Bush said the defense force had defused a number of improvised explosive devices that were attached to vehicles stopped after the attacks.

He said anybody who was thinking of going to a mosque anywhere in New Zealand on Friday should stay put.

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FILE – A view of the Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue in Christchurch, New Zealand, taken in 2014. VOA

Deadliest attack

The deadliest attack occurred at the Masjid Al Noor mosque in central Christchurch about 1:45 p.m. Arden said 41 people were killed there.

One man who said he was at the Al Noor mosque told media the gunman was white, blond and wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest. The man burst into the mosque as worshippers were kneeling for prayers.

“He had a big gun … he came and started shooting everyone in the mosque, everywhere,” said the man, Ahmad Al-Mahmoud. He said he and others escaped by breaking through a glass door.

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Ambulance staff take a man from outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. VOA

Witness Len Peneha said he saw a man dressed in black enter the mosque and then heard dozens of shots, followed by people running from the mosque in terror.

Peneha, who lives next door to the mosque, said the gunman ran out of the mosque, dropped what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon in his driveway, and fled.

Peneha said he then went into the mosque to try and help.

“I saw dead people everywhere. There were three in the hallway, at the door leading into the mosque, and people inside the mosque,” he said. “It’s unbelievable nutty. I don’t understand how anyone could do this to these people, to anyone. It’s ridiculous.”

He said he helped about five people recover in his home. He said one was slightly injured.

“I’ve lived next door to this mosque for about five years and the people are great, they’re very friendly,” he said. “I just don’t understand it.”

He said the gunman was white and was wearing a helmet with some kind of device on top, giving him a military-type appearance.

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Armed police patrol outside a mosque in central Christchurch, New Zealand, March 15, 2019. A witness says many people have been killed in a mass shooting at a mosque in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. VOA

Attack livestreamed

A video that was apparently livestreamed by the shooter shows the attack in horrifying detail. The gunman spends more than two minutes inside the mosque spraying terrified worshippers with bullets again and again, sometimes firing again at people he has already cut down.

He then walks outside to the street, where he shoots at people on the sidewalk. Children’s screams can be heard in the distance as he returns to his car to get another rifle. Children were among the wounded.

The gunman then walks back into the mosque, where there are at least two dozen people lying on the ground. After walking back outside and shooting a woman there, he gets back in his car, where the song “Fire” by English rock band “The Crazy World of Arthur Brown” can be heard blasting from the speakers. The singer bellows, “I am the god of hellfire!” and the gunman drives away. The video then cuts out.

Second mosque attacked

There was a second shooting at the Linwood Masjid Mosque that Ardern said killed 10 people.

Mark Nichols told the New Zealand Herald he heard about five gunshots and that a Friday prayer-goer returned fire with a rifle or shotgun.

Nichols said he saw two injured people being carried out on stretchers past his automotive shop and that both people appeared to be alive.

Man claims responsibility

The man who claimed responsibility for the shooting said he came to New Zealand only to plan and train for the attack. He said he was not a member of any organization, but had donated to and interacted with many nationalist groups, though he acted alone and no group ordered the attack.

He said the mosques in Christchurch and Linwood would be the targets, as would a third mosque in the town of Ashburton if he could make it there.

He said he chose New Zealand because of its location, to show that even the most remote parts of the world were not free of “mass immigration.”

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Cricket team’s narrow escape

New Zealand is generally considered to be a welcoming country for immigrants and refugees. Last year, the prime minister announced the country would boost its annual refugee quota from 1,000 to 1,500 starting in 2020. Ardern, whose party campaigned on the promise of raising the intake of refugees, dubbed the planned increase “the right thing to do.”

A cricket match between New Zealand and Bangladesh scheduled to start Saturday was canceled after the Bangladesh cricket team had a narrow escape. (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)