ROCKVILLE – Following a terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, where police said a white supremacist murdered 50 people at two mosques during Friday prayers, Montgomery County will provide additional security for places of worship.
While the county had already planned to provide $200,000 in additional grants for places of worship, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said after the attack in New Zealand that Montgomery County Police would increase their presence near mosques and that county officials will soon announce the recipients of security grants.
“Though there is no information about threats in Montgomery County, we’re going to increase police presence at mosques for Friday prayers,” Elrich said in a statement after the attack. “Although this was already in the works, I will be announcing the recipients of the $200,000 in security grants for faith-based organizations in the county. We want the faith-based communities to know that they are part of our family; and we understand these threats, and we will continue to work with our communities to help address them.”
The $200,000 in grants would go to places of worship in the county to help religious communities hire security personnel or consultants or to offset already existing security costs. The council passed the funding for the grant after a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where a gunman murdered 11 people on Oct. 27, 2018.
The effort to increase security at places of worships has been nothing new for the county, as threats against religious communities, particularly Jewish and Muslims ones, have been on the increase.
On March 17, Montgomery County-elected leaders gathered for an interfaith meeting at the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg to show solitary with Muslim communities, who have been impacted by the attack in New Zealand. Following the weekend of interfaith solidarity, on March 19, the Council passed a resolution condemning terrorism and anti-Muslim bigotry.
“We mourn the heartbreaking killings of men, women and children gathered for prayer in their houses of worship and urge leaders in our nation and worldwide to speak out forcefully against the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that appears to have motivated these white supremacist terrorists,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Center on American-Islamic Relations.
According to New Zealand police, an Australian man carried out a planned attack, deliberately targeting Muslims. The man, now in the custody of New Zealand officials, is a self-described fascist, who posted a white supremacist manifesto online, detailing his motivations for the attack.
According to New Zealand authorities, the gunman live-streamed the attack on his social media accounts. After killing 50 people at two different mosques in Christchurch, police arrested him.
According to Montgomery County Police, in 2018, there were 93 reported “bias incidents” – a decrease from the 123 reported bias incidents in 2017. Of the 93 reported bias incidents in 2018, 28 were anti-Semitic, and four were anti-Muslim.
For many, the attacks in New Zealand are a reminder of what could happen here.
In February 2017, Montgomery County police investigated threatening letters sent to two different Islamic community centers in Silver Spring. The threats to the Islamic centers came days after the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville received a bomb threat.
Given the recent uptick in hate crimes and bias incidents, Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said he has placed greater emphasis on investigating such crimes.
“We stand with our Muslim community during this unimaginably difficult time of grief,” said Council President Nancy Navarro (D-4). “Our hearts break for those who lost their lives and were injured during the terror attacks on Masjid Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Center in New Zealand during Friday prayer. We also send our deepest condolences to the family members and friends of those who were senseless targets of hate.”