‘Confusion and fear’ follow day of terror

Security beefed up at Victoria mosque after shootings killed 49 in New Zealand

Stepped-up security measures were in place Friday at Victoria’s Al-Iman mosque after at least 49 people were killed in mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Ismail Mohamed Nur, the mosque’s imam or leader, said he asked for a Victoria police presence at the Quadra Street building. “The community’s trying to cope,” he said. “It’s very sad and tragic, what has happened in New Zealand.

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“There’s a lot of confusion and fear at the moment. There is a lot of worry. It’s just so shocking … that so many innocent people lost their lives worshipping at a mosque, at one of those places where you’d never imagine something like this ever happening.”

The capital region is home to about 5,000 Muslims.

Mohamed Nur said the outpouring of support from the larger community is appreciated.

“People are coming, dropping flowers, giving their support in whatever way they can,” he said. “Me personally, I feel that it does a lot for the community. It shows that we’re not alone in this.”

Increased security on an ongoing basis is a possibility, he said.

“That might be something that we will have to look into,” Mohamed Nur said. “As of right now, there’s no decision that has been made.”

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak visited the mosque Friday and said his department was happy to help the Muslim community. He said two uniformed officers were assigned to the mosque.

The officers were on site for a few hours during the morning and afternoon prayer services, which usually attract a total of about 500 people.

A number of other officers came by to show their support.

“There’s no threats to Canada, there’s no threats to the Muslim community here locally,” Manak said. “But we would take our guidance from the imam and from the leaders here at the mosque.”

Similar steps were taken after the 2017 shooting at a mosque in Quebec City, Manak said. Six people died and 19 were injured when a gunman opened fire.

“These things are happening far too frequently for our liking and it’s very important that we stay connected to the Muslim community and let them know that this is not the feeling of the majority of the population, and that they’re loved and they’re supported,” he said.

“And as a police department, and certainly as a minority police chief, I want to make sure that I recognize some of the fears that the community may have and I want to do whatever I can do as a leader in policing here.”

The Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island offered its condolences, saying: “We mourn as one community.”

It noted that Muslims stood beside Jews last year after 11 people were killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

“Today, we share in the sense of grief and utter disbelief that the Victoria Muslim community must be feeling as they pray for the souls of their sisters and brothers so senselessly slaughtered in New Zealand,” the statement said.

“We invite everyone to pause for a moment to reflect on the terrible act of hate inflicted upon the Muslim community and stand in solidarity with them in their time of mourning.”

The statement said people from all backgrounds need to take a stand.

“Regardless of our ethnicity, faith, or nationality we must join together and commit to taking personal stock of our words and deeds, remembering that evil is not only bad people doing bad things, it is also when good people do nothing.”

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the city “stands in solidarity” with the Muslim community against racism, Islamophobia and discrimination, and for “diversity, inclusion and love.”

Helps said she spoke with Mohamed Nur and the two had similar concerns.

“His worry and my worry is: How many more? Is this a new trend?

“We hope not. That’s why we need to condemn these acts in the strongest possible terms.”

Helps encouraged people to leave flowers at the Quadra Street mosque as an act of solidarity.

Lyndon Sayers, a Lutheran pastor, added a note to the fast-growing collection of flowers and messages.

“I think it’s important to stand in solidarity,” he said. “Especially with an Islamophobic act like this.”

Charles Joerin brought flowers on behalf of the North Park Neighbourhood Association.

“This [Muslim] community is part of the greater community of North Park,” he said. “So we wanted to express our sympathies.

“When one of us is in pain, we all feel it.”

Canadian flags at the B.C. legislature and Victoria City Hall flew at half-mast to honour the dead, while an afternoon vigil was held at Centennial Square.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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