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Increased Patrols At Bay Area Mosques Following New Zealand Attacks

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – Police departments in the Bay Area announced additional patrols around mosques Friday in the wake of the deadly attacks on mosques in New Zealand. Meanwhile, officials and local leaders of the Muslim community have condemned the attacks.

"We're obviously horrified by this act of violence and hate," said Ammad Rafiqui of the Bay Area chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. In response, Rafiqui sent a guide on safety and security in places of worship to local mosques.

Rafiqui said there has been several threats against local mosques in the past year.

"People who do go to worship are on high positional and situational awareness, that they know who is coming to the mosque, and to check in on their family and friends," he said.

San Francisco police announced on Twitter that it was following the events in New Zealand and would increase patrols.

Police in South San Francisco issued a statement on their Facebook page, which read in part, "We encourage our local residents to remain comfortable as they go to our local places of worship. The South San Francisco Police Department is aware of the concerns created by these tragedies and we will be doing our part to make sure those attending their places of worship remain feeling safe."

South San Francisco Mosque Patrol
A South San Francisco police officer patrols outside a mosque following an attack on two mosques in New Zealand that killed 49 people, March 15, 2019. (CBS)

Hundreds of people packed a South San Francisco mosque for the Friday afternoon prayer service. Devoted worshipers who couldn't fit inside prayed in the parking lot.

They are outraged over the Christchurch shooting, but also worry it could happen here.

South SF Mosque
South SF Mosque (CBS)

"You still have those thoughts, but it's not going to stop me from coming to the mosque and praying," said worshiper Loay Dahbour.

Many worshipers thanked a South San Francisco police officer who was standing guard in front of the mosque.

"That makes us feel very safe, when we have somebody protecting us. It makes the person feel more at ease," said Sufyan Shaikh, the Imam at Fiji Jamaat Ul Islam of America.

Mosque leaders also said they will make changes to keep people safe.

"Every prayer, we're going to close the gate," said Fiji Jamaat Ul Islam of America President Abdul Khalid.

Local police departments said they were not aware of any credible threats to the local the mosques.  Nonetheless, they want to increase their presence so that people do feel safe when they go to a place of worship.

"I think today, I've seen more people than usual, which is good. We cannot stop having a normal life and worshiping God because of a psychopath," said Dahbour.

Meanwhile, Oakland police said in an email to KPIX 5, "[W]e have increased patrols/security checks in key areas of the city. The Oakland Police Department's Intelligence Unit is in close communication and with local state and national law enforcement agencies."

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Mosque leaders in Fremont and San Jose are also looking to increase their own security.

"We're discussing to increase security and hire private security for all the gatherings that we have," said Islamic Society of East Bay President Alam Mustafa.

"One of the first steps is to be aware that there's the possibility of this. Not to panic, but that there's a possibility that this could happen in the United States," said Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spokesperson Ammad Rafiqi.

Other law enforcement agencies across the country, including in New York, Los Angeles and Detroit, have boosted patrols on mosques and other houses of worship.

At least 49 people Friday were killed when a gunman opened fire on Muslims praying at two mosques in Christchurch on New Zealand's South Island. A 28-year-old man from Australia has been charged in the killings.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has condemned the killings, saying in a tweet, "Pittsburgh, Charleston, Quebec, New Zealand — no one should have to fear going to their place of worship."

"The hate that has fueled these horrific and cowardly acts MUST be called out. CA stands with New Zealand and Muslims everywhere," the governor went on to say.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also condemned the attack, saying "Islamophobia and such acts of pure hatred have no place in a civilized world."

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