ATLANTA — Georgia’s Muslim houses of worship are encouraged to strengthen security, after shootings at two New Zealand mosques killed 49 people during Friday morning prayers. So far, one man has been charged in the shooting.
CAIR-Georgia, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, is asking the state’s more than 70 mosques to protect themselves.
"As a precaution, we strongly encourage Georgia's Muslim houses of worship to review and strengthen their security measures in the coming days," said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR-Georgia. "We also encourage local law enforcement agencies to send at least one patrol car to stand guard at their local masjid during Friday prayer service."
The Atlanta Police Department said their Homeland Security Unit is monitoring the events out of New Zealand and are paying additional attention to mosques in the city.
"We have our officers conducting directed patrols around city mosques and asking them to be on heightened alert for suspicious activity," a statement from the department read.
Mitchell also said that Gwinnett County Police are increasing patrols as well.
"This horrific attack was disgusting and mortifying, but it was not surprising," Mitchell said. "It was the natural and predictable end result in a global surge of xenophobia and white supremacy."
World leaders and Muslim leaders condemned the mass shootings. President Donald Trump tweeted his " warmest sympathy and best wishes.”
"Releasing a statement of warm condolences on Twitter is not sufficient," Mitchell said, referencing Trump's tweet. He said the attack is evidence of a wider shift toward Islamophobia.
"Here in our nation, American Muslims have been targeted by hate crimes, death threats, discrimination, and other forms of Islamophobia in recent years. Our political leaders must reject racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in both word and deed before the hatred we have seen in Christchurch, Pittsburgh, Charlottesville, and elsewhere, takes impacts anyone else,” he said in a statement.
Mitchell said he read the shooter's manifesto and watched the videos the attacker posted on Facebook Live.
"He made it very clear he was afraid, and he believed in the superiority of the white race," Mitchell said. "His picture should be in every news report ... the shooter has blood on his hands but so do the bigots who agree with and spread the same kind of ideology all over the world."
Imam Sulaimaan Hamed of the Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, the largest and oldest Islamic community in metro Atlanta, said licensed and armed security guards are there to protect worshipers.
"We live in Georgia. It is a state that respects our Second Amendment rights, and so do I," Hamed said. "We do have licensed and armed security to protect those who worship God. And we have an excellent relationship with the DeKalb chief of police and are in communication with him often. We are Americans and citizens of Atlanta."
The Associated Press reports that the prime minister called it "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
One man was arrested and charged with murder in what appeared to be a carefully planned racist attack. Police also defused explosive devices in a car. Two other armed suspects were being held in custody. Police said they were trying to determine how they might be involved.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the events in Christchurch represented "an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence," and that many of the victims could be migrants or refugees.
"It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack," Ardern said.
In addition to the dead, health officials said 48 people were being treated at Christchurch Hospital for gunshot wounds. Injuries ranged from minor to critical.
The Associated Press’s Nick Perry and Mark Baker contributed to this report.