CHICAGO — Two Muslim organizations in the Chicago area said they were stepping up patrols and other security measures Friday after a mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand killed at least 49 people and wounded dozens more, but Chicago police said they were not aware of any local threats.
The Muslim Community Center, which operates a mosque on the Northwest Side and schools in Morton Grove and Skokie, said in a statement that it planned to hire extra security patrols and advised its members, "Please be vigilant by keeping your eyes and ears open and being aware of your surroundings. Report any suspicious activities to security staff or the police and help your fellow brothers and sisters."
The MCC said it had contacted the police in Chicago, Morton Grove and Skokie and asked for extra patrols as well.
The Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it was not aware of any threats locally but urged mosques and Muslim centers "to take increased security precautions."
"As the details of the story continue to develop, we urge all of our community members to be vigilant, especially while attending Friday prayers," CAIR said in a statement. "The horrific active shooter scenario at a mosque is something we all pray never happens (but) there is no active intelligence that there is any immediate threat in the U.S. But we cannot be complacent."
Chicago police released a statement saying "there are no known threats to the city of Chicago" but adding that "special attention will be given to Chicago mosques as a precaution."
Making people feel safe is the first priority, said Sufyan Sohel, deputy director and counsel for CAIR. Mosques in the area have called him wondering how to protect their congregants. Some people were afraid to attend Friday prayers, the same service that New Zealand victims were attending when they were attacked.
Friday prayers are an important part of the week, similar to Sabbath on Saturday for the Jewish community or church on Sunday for the Christian community, Sohel said. He's advised them to work with local law enforcement and ask volunteers to keep an eye on entrances.
After 9/11, there was a shift in the way that Muslims living in the United States were treated, Sohel said, and thinks it became more "mainstream" for people to make anti-Muslim comments during the 2016 presidential election. The number of discrimination reports his office receives has nearly doubled in the last two years, Sohel said.
"When incidents like this happen, communities tend to feel isolated, that they're alone and they're being specifically targeted," Sohel said.
The community needs to come together to remind Muslim people that they aren't alone, he said, "that we're all brothers and sisters of humanity."
"We need to stand together for that, to keep vigilant, to speak out against incidents like this, to be vocal," Sohel said. "Saying 'we condemn or we mourn' -- it's not enough. ... We got to reach out to our legislators and make sure that we have the right laws in place that this is no longer tolerated, that the root causes of these are attacked."
At least 49 people were killed at two mosques full of worshipers attending Friday prayers in Christchurch, New Zealand. Health officials said 48 other people were being treated at Christchurch Hospital for gunshot wounds. Injuries ranged from minor to critical.
Police took three men and a woman into custody.