Police in Boston, Cambridge step up patrols at mosques, houses of worship following deadly NZ shootings
Law enforcement officials have stepped up security and patrols at houses of worship across the state Friday as they monitored an ongoing investigation into deadly shootings at two mosques in New Zealand.
Those shootings, which struck worshipers during prayer services in Christchurch, left at least 49 people dead and more than 20 other people seriously wounded in the attack, officials have said.
A 28-year-old Australian man who said he carried out the attacks has been arrested, while two other people were being held in custody. Police are trying to determine how they might be involved.
In separate statements, area law enforcement agencies offered their condolences to the victims and their families.
In Massachusetts, there were no specific credible threats to Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, or Rhode Island, according to Kristen M. Setera, a spokeswoman for the Boston office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The FBI is closely monitoring the situation overseas and remains in contact with its counterparts in the region, Setera said in a statement.
“As soon as any intelligence is gleaned from the attack, we will share it with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners,” she said.
The FBI urged law enforcement and the public to remain vigilant, and anyone who sees suspicious activity should report it to law enforcement, she said.
“Routine engagement, proactive outreach and transparency are essential to maintaining positive community partnerships,” she said. “As a standard practice, FBI Boston maintains contact with community leaders to assess any concerns they may have.”
The State Police Division of Homeland Security is monitoring developments in the Christchurch mosque attacks, according to David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, in a statement.
“Massachusetts State Police field units will maintain their usual high alert levels for any suspicious activity in their patrol areas, and, where applicable, increase frequency of patrols around mosques and other religious facilities,” Procopio said.
In Roxbury, The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center will also be stepping up security in the wake of the shootings, said Yusufi Vali, the center’s director of strategic relations and public affairs.
Boston police will have cruisers parked outside the center, along with at least one armed police officer in the building, Vali said. The extra security will last for at least several more days, he said.
“When these events happen, you don’t want to change who you are. You just want to be vigilant and not naive,” Vali said in a phone interview.
In a show of support, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Boston Police Commissioner William Gross, and a group of interfaith leaders will attend Friday services at 1 p.m., Vali said.
Local leaders must “continue to send a message that hate and violence have no place in Boston and in Massachusetts,” he said.
Vali said the region’s Muslims supported the local Jewish community following the deadly Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh in October. In that shooting, Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly killed 11 people in the synagogue during worship services, authorities said at the time.
“In Boston, we have to stick together,” Vali said. “That’s been our motto, ‘Boston Strong,’ ” Vali said.
Now, he said, Jewish leaders have come out in support of the local Muslim community.
“We are not going to allow hate and violence [to] bully us,” Vali said.
Gross, the police commissioner, has increased and directed patrols to mosques, temples, and all houses of worship Friday, said Sergeant Detective John Boyle, a department spokesman.
He said the moves are precautionary, and there is no specific threat to Boston.
“We are trying to keep people safe at all religious houses of worship,” Boyle said in a phone interview.
Nichole Mossalam, the director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Medford, said leaders of mosques across the region are working to make worshipers feel safe.
“We cannot let ourselves be intimidated,” Mossalam said. “That is exactly what individuals like this seek to do. If anything, we need to see this as inspiration for dialogue, and for outreach, and for being in solidarity with everyone in our community.”
In Cambridge, the Islamic Society of Boston is increasing security measures during Friday prayers and is working closely with Cambridge police, the ISB said in a statement posted to Facebook.
They said there was “no identifiable threat” against the ISB community, the statement said.
“Please be vigilant and never let fear [get] into you,” the ISB said in the statement, which also asked worshipers to remember the victims and their families during prayers.
Cambridge police have been speaking with leaders within the city’s faith community in the aftermath of the shooting, the department said in a statement posted to Twitter.
“Places of worship should be places where all can congregate without fear. As always, we will do our part to support that through increased attention with our patrols and ongoing dialogue with faith leaders to ensure enhanced peace of mind,” Cambridge police said.
Worcester police Lieutenant Sean Murtha said extra patrols were out Friday, and officers were stopping by mosques and speaking with employees and worshipers.
Wayland Police Chief Patrick Swanick said his officers have increased patrols and assigned a cruiser outside the Islamic Center of Boston, which is located in the town.
Aijaz Baloch, president of the Islamic Center of Boston, said the center will increase security and plans to continue its normal activities, “God willing.”
Swanick reached out to the mosque first thing Friday morning, he said.
“It’s just a sign of support to let them know we are there for them,” Swanick said.
Some local colleges and universities scrambled in the aftermath of the killings to make sure study-abroad students were safe.
Boston College has one student studying abroad at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, and that student has been confirmed to be safe, a spokesman said. Another seven BC students are studying at the University of Otago, more than a four-hour drive from Christchurch, and the college was checking Friday morning to make sure all were accounted for.
Boston University has a program on New Zealand’s North Island, about 700 miles from Christchurch, and all its students there are accounted for, a spokesman said. Study-abroad students at BU are told during orientation for overseas programs to check in with their program office after any natural disaster or other emergency, the spokesman said.
A Northeastern University spokeswoman said the school had confirmed that all its students in the region are safe. Representatives for Suffolk University and Emerson College said they have no students studying in New Zealand.