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Phoenix police "hope to head off any problems" at anti-Islam rally

The Islamic Community Center in Phoenix

CBS affiliate KPHO

PHOENIX - Police are preparing for the hundreds of people reportedly expected to attend a "Draw the Prophet Muhammed" rally Friday evening outside a Phoenix mosque, where two men who opened fire on a similar contest in Texas reportedly once worshiped.

Sgt. Trent Crump of the Phoenix Police Department told 48 Hours' Crimesider that the department has been monitoring social media and met with some of the event organizers, as well as leadership from the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, where the rally is scheduled to take place during evening prayers.

"We'll have the area well-surveilled," said Crump, who wouldn't comment on the number of officers scheduled to be deployed to the scene, saying only that there will be "an appropriate presence." CBS News Homeland Security correspondent Jeff Pegues reported earlier Friday that Phoenix police are also working with the FBI to prepare for the event.

The Arizona Republic reports that a similar protest two weeks ago drew only two dozen people. But according the "Freedom of Speech Rally" Facebook page, more than 1,000 people plan to attend the event, which is advertised as being a "PEACEFUL protest." The protest is led by a former Marine named Jon Ritzheimer. CBS affiliate KPHO reports that the protesters had originally planned to meet at a nearby Denny's, but that the owner said he planned close the restaurant for a few hours around the rally. An area school also cancelled classes.

"I don't want a random bullet hitting one of my kids just because two groups aren't getting along," Assistant Principal Zennis Lee of E-Institute Charter School told the station.

At a similar event in Garland, Texas on May 3, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi, roommates from Phoenix, opened fire and were killed by police.

The Facebook page tells would-be participants: "We will not have food vendors at this event because we don't want this to turn into a carnival. People can bring snacks and water but please keep the neighborhood clean."

Rally-goers "are also encouraged to utilize there [sic] second amendment right at this event just incase [sic] our first amendment comes under the much anticipated attack."

Sgt. Crump said that due to Arizona's liberal gun laws, police are used to monitoring rallies and protests where participants are carrying firearms.

"It can certainly escalate and create fear," said Crump. "The challenge is anticipating an unlawful event. We hope to have enough eyes and ears on the scene that we can head off any problems."

  • Julia Dahl

    Julia Dahl writes about crime and justice for CBSNews.com