Florida Muslims: Threats, intimidation follow club shooting


SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) – Some Florida mosques and Muslims have been subjected to threats and acts of intimidation since a gunman killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub two weeks ago, an Islamic group said Tuesday.

Council on American-Islamic Relations-Florida spokesman Wilfredo A. Ruiz told a press conference the latest example was a motorcycle group last Sunday repeatedly circling the Fort Pierce mosque attended by shooter Omar Mateen in an attempt to intimidate worshippers. Threats have also been called into that mosque, an Orlando mosque was vandalized and Muslims have individually received threats since the June 12 shooting, Ruiz said.

Approximately 170,000 Muslims attend about 120 mosques in Florida, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Ruiz said the Fort Pierce mosque’s leaders have attempted to hire St. Lucie County sheriff’s deputies to provide security but have been rejected. He said the mosque only has about 100 members, including Mateen’s father. He said Omar Mateen sometimes attended Friday prayers but didn’t socialize with others.

Sheriff Ken Mascara issued a statement saying deputies are patrolling the mosque more frequently but the office doesn’t have the staffing levels to place guards there, even if reimbursed. He said no threats have been reported against the mosque.

“The terrorist attack in Orlando has our entire agency working extremely hard. Our first and primary mission is to ensure the continued safety and security of our entire county. Placing patrol units at specific locations by special request, even if reimbursed by the requesting party, is evaluated based on staffing levels and can at times limit our ability to maintain our mission and appropriately respond to the entire community,” Mascara said.

Lewis Smith, a firefighter and Marine veteran who rode in the demonstration, told the Treasure Coast Newspapers that the riders’ goal was to show they don’t fear terrorism.

“We stand united against those willing to destroy our country and what we stand for,” Smith told the newspaper.

Ruiz said Muslims are part of mainstream America just like members of other religions, pointing out that he is a Navy veteran and that others teach, practice medicine and belong to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

“They want to generalize when they speak about the Muslim population – they don’t belong, they don’t adapt, they don’t assimilate,” Ruiz said. “That is the discourse that is dangerous, that fuels most of these Islamophobic incidents.”

He said his group presents programs at mosques encouraging Muslims to report to their leaders and to the police members of their community who they suspect might be extremists or potential terrorists. He said when local Muslims are suspected of leaning toward extremism but have not committed a crime, they are approached by imams, social workers, attorneys and mental health professionals in an attempt to steer them back to the mainstream.

He said CAIR and other Muslim groups have also cooperated in criminal investigations into Islamic State recruitment in Florida.

“This is how we can prevent crime and keep our community safe,” he said.

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