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Muslim leaders discuss security of local mosques after New Zealand attacks

The security conference in Anaheim for Islamic institutions included speakers from law enforcement, mental health and civil rights advocacy.
The security conference in Anaheim for Islamic institutions included speakers from law enforcement, mental health and civil rights advocacy.
Aaron Schrank/KPCC

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The Islamic Shura Council of Southern California hosted an emergency town hall in Anaheim over the weekend to discuss security measures for local mosques. 

The council, which represents about 80 local mosques, put on the event to address trauma and safety concerns in the community following last month's mass shooting attacks on two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 dead. 

"How do we handle it? How do we talk to our children about it?" said Ahmed Soboh, chair of the council. "God forbid, this could happen to any mosque in the world, especially Muslims who live as a minority in the West."

A few dozen religious leaders showed up in Anaheim on Sunday to hear from security professionals and mental health experts.

Taha Hassane, an imam at the Islamic Center of San Diego, said his members are scared.

"Some of them came to me literally telling me that, ‘I don’t feel safe praying anymore,’ Hassane said. "This old guy came to me and he told me, ‘Every time I stand in the mosque praying, I feel somebody’s behind me trying to harm me.'"

Yusef Miller came from Escondido in San Diego County, where last month, a fire was reported after someone tried to burn down his neighborhood mosque, and left graffiti behind referencing the attack in New Zealand.

Miller lives a few blocks from the mosque, and said the event was terrifying.

"Everybody was on extra high alert, and it brought that tragedy home as if it happened right here," Miller said.

The conversation about security is necessary, according to Edina Lekovic with the Muslim Public Affairs Council in L.A.

"It is natural for us to be thinking about security, and it is overdue," Lekovic said. "We need security guards at all mosques. Unfortunately, these are wake-up calls, and we can’t undo what was done. But we can focus on the health and well-being of our own communities."

Religious leaders said they’ve received bouquets of flowers, and new visitors at Friday prayers. But concerns are not going away.

Speakers at the conference urged local Islamic institutions to develop relationships with law enforcement to help stay safe.

Aaron Schrank covers religion, international affairs and the Southern California diaspora under a grant from the Luce Foundation.