US mosques boost security amid anti-Islamic tensions

CORONA (California) • Mosques around the United States are warily stepping up security in the face of growing fears about reprisals against Muslim Americans.

The increasing safety concerns described by American Islamic leaders - and the steps they are taking in response - represent the flip side of rising public anxiety about recent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria-inspired terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

The call by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the US only amplified concerns about an anti-Islamic backlash, religious leaders and organisers said.

At least two mosques are working with the Department of Homeland Security to check up on the security their facilities provide for worshippers in recent weeks.

"We are always concerned about lone-wolf attacks," said Mr Usama Shami, president of one of the mosques, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Over the weekend, police arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of setting a fire at a Southern California mosque in what the authorities are describing as a hate attack.

Given the rising tensions, some mosques say they have struggled to hire and keep security guards.

In Dulles, Virginia, a suburb with a large Muslim community centre, security guards abruptly quit after the San Bernardino attacks, said Mr Rizwan Jaka, chairman of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society.

"They were fearful of getting hurt in the backlash," he said. Thesociety has now hired armed guards.

FBI data for last year showed that out of 1,140 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, approximately 16 per cent were victims of an anti-Islamic bias.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'US mosques boost security amid anti-Islamic tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe