Disclosing locations of powder deliveries made 2 mosques bigger targets, Muslim leaders say

·5 min read
Worshippers attend the first Friday prayer of Ramadan at Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 8. Muslim leaders in Edmonton say police ignored their requests to keep the location of two targeted mosques private. (Murad Sezer/Reuters - image credit)
Worshippers attend the first Friday prayer of Ramadan at Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 8. Muslim leaders in Edmonton say police ignored their requests to keep the location of two targeted mosques private. (Murad Sezer/Reuters - image credit)

Members of the Muslim community are condemning Edmonton police for revealing the locations of two mosques where packages of suspicious white powder were delivered.

By releasing information about the locations, the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) may have pinned targets on the properties, Said Omar, Alberta advocacy officer for the National Council of Canadian Muslims, said Friday.

"It does increase the anxiety for those congregations because they feel like possibly now they're they've become a bigger target," Omar said in an interview.

"When, unfortunately, they're on the front-page cover, that really creates panic."

Omar said city police had promised to keep identifying details about the locations of the deliveries private after mosque officials raised safety concerns.

When police disclosed the locations of the mosques to the media on Thursday, it triggered fear fear and frustration, he said.

Those anxieties are exacerbated by the timing of the deliveries, he said. Thousands of faithful are gathering in the city every day to mark the holy month of Ramadan.

Some mosques are taking added precautions, hiring security or taking the unusual step of locking their doors, he said.

"All mosques will be literally full to the brim. And that's one of the one of the main reasons, of course, we didn't want those names to go out."

The deliveries are under investigation by the EPS hate crime and violent extremism unit.

The first package was found on April 15. The second was found Thursday. The white powder in both incidents has since been deemed to be an innocuous substance.

In a news release Thursday about the white powder incidents, police revealed the locations of the two mosques.

CBC News reported the names of the mosques but later removed that identifying information from its coverage after community members raised safety concerns.

In a statement Friday, EPS spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said it is standard practice to release location information when reporters ask about specific events.

"Particularly when the media is already aware of the location information, it is common practice to confirm the obvious," Voordenhout said.

"However, we recognize in this situation that the release of this information has caused concern among the Islamic community, and the EPS Community Relations Section will be conducting follow-up with the mosques involved to help provide assurance and support."

An anti-hate advocate says the case should serve as a reminder of the role of law enforcement and the media in managing the risk of copycat hate crimes.

Too often, when the location of a mosque that has been targeted in a hate crime is reported, the community faces further harassment, said Mustafa Farooq, CEO of the National Council of Canadian Muslims.

Copycat fears

Racist forums online share details of ongoing hate crimes investigations and urge others to single out the mosques involved, Farooq said.

Similar hate-filled calls to action can be often be found in comment sections on social media, he said, noting that he also faced online threats of violence.

When mosque names are identified, it puts a target on them for white supremacists and racists, he said.

"That's why I think it's so important that people do report, but that law enforcement operates responsibly to make sure that information isn't disclosed without express permission of the people reporting."

In the wake of the suspicious deliveries, Farooq said the council is focused on reaching out to community members and fostering calm within the community.

Voordenhout said that as part of the EPS investigation into the white powder deliveries, all Edmonton mosques have been sent information about what to do if they encounter any suspicious packages.

Police members have been made aware of the investigation so they know to direct any further reports of suspicious packages to the hate crimes unit, she said.

Backlash 'a real concern'

There is a real concern for backlash following a hate-driven crime, said Kurt Phillips, a board member of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a nonprofit that monitors hate groups, far-right groups, and hate crimes in Canada.

"One of the big fears, of course, are the copycats; people who've seen that these mosques, these religious institutions have been targeted … and effort to create more fear," said Phillips who is based in Drumheller.

Police should defer to the communities being targeted to minimize the potential for further harm, he said.

"They're the ones who best know their own safety concerns."

'Just heartbreaking'

Noor Al-Henedy, a spokesperson for Edmonton's Al Rashid Mosque, said the location of the targeted mosques should have been protected by police.

Islamophobic crimes appear to be on the rise in Edmonton, she said.

The city has grappled with a string of high-profile crimes targeting the Muslim community in recent months, including vandalism of mosques and multiple attacks on women in hijabs.

"We have seen an escalation," Al-Henedy said. "It's a very sad truth that this did not come as a surprise."

She said she is crestfallen to see Muslims targeted, especially as so many mosques open their doors to the broader community during the final days of Ramadan.

"It's a month of mercy. It's a month of inclusion," she said.

"To see that a group or an individuals are using it as an opportunity to embed fear in the hearts of Muslim community members is just heartbreaking."

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