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Local Muslim community saddened by New Zealand tragedy, vow vigilance for safety

Hours after the deadly shootings of nearly 50 Muslim men, women and children at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, leaders in Western New York's Muslim community were addressing the tragedy and vowing to do their part to ensure safety at places of worship locally.

Police in New Zealand charged a 28-year-old man in connection with the shootings and arrested two others. The alleged killer released a lengthy manifesto filled with anti-immigrant sentiments. He also claimed that attempts to take guns out of the hands of citizens in the US would lead to civil war.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, in response to the shootings, ordered New York State Police to increase patrols and protection at mosques within the state. Dr. Khalid Qazi, founding president and senior advisor of the Muslim Public Affairs Council of Western New York, credited the governor for his action and told WBFO the community itself was also increasing its diligence to protect the community.

"Our law enforcement has been very effective locally in helping the local Muslim institutions and we have had messages of support from our friends and neighbors," he said. "We'll stay vigilant and work with the law enforcement for any incidents that might take place."

While the alleged attackers in Christchurch are said to have white supremacist motivations, Qazi recalled how some attempt to portray Muslims as a violent people when tragedies occur. He noted that the local Muslim community has, on numerous occasions in the past, acted to alert police to suspicious wrongdoing. Their efforts, such as providing critical information to police, have led to arrests including that of a Lackawanna man who attempted to join ISIS, and even those of the "Lackawanna Six" in 2002.

In the meantime, local mosques were preparing to host Friday afternoon prayers. Qazi stated that the tragedy in New Zealand would surely be a point of conversation, both in prayer and outside the mosques. He said talking points, or "red alerts," were being sent out to imams throughout Western New York.

"They will share that with the audience at the Friday prayers today," he said. "And then there will be conversation among the people, before and after, because this is such a huge tragedy. It will not escape the attention of anyone."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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