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posted: 8/6/2012 7:12 PM

Security concerns heightened after Sikh temple shootings, mosque burning

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Concern about copycats is prompting heightened security at suburban mosques after the weekend shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in which six people were killed, and Monday's razing of a mosque in Joplin, Mo.

In response to such acts of "domestic terrorism," the Department of Homeland Security is advising faith community leaders to be on alert for suspicious persons near houses of worship, said Dr. Mohammed Zaher Sahloul, chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and member of the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview.

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"I don't know if there's any link between the two incidents," Sahloul said. "Muslim and Sikh, and faith communities in general should be more vigilant and they should take precautions in identifying any suspicious individuals. Always when you have incidents like this, especially when you have a heightened atmosphere of Islamophobia, there is a concern of copycats."

Sahloul said Homeland Security officials engaged various faith community leaders and governmental agencies on this issue at a teleconference Monday.

"They referred us to different resources on the DHS website about providing more protection against such attacks," he said. "We're going to share it with the community."

Islamic centers in Schaumburg, Rolling Meadows and Des Plaines are among those considering increasing security and requesting additional police protection during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan when Muslims congregate for additional nightly prayers.

Masjid-al-Huda in Schaumburg is hiring retired policemen to provide protection, and the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs in Rolling Meadows will keep a decoy police car at the entrance and have younger members monitor the gates and parking lots, said Dr. Khalid Abdus Sami, a community elder and a member of the Islamic Society of Northwest Suburbs.

"They are not in panic," Abdus Sami said. "We have been doing this for many years and this concern has been there all the time that anybody could do something like this. Nobody is staying home because of this concern. They trust the system that police will be keeping an eye (making) extra rounds, and our own precautions. (God willing) nothing happens to us in our holy month."

A community iftar -- post-sundown fast-breaking meal -- this Thursday at Schaumburg's Masjid-al-Huda is scheduled to go ahead as planned. Several local clergymen are among the invitees and security will be heightened.

While it is yet unclear why the Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee was targeted by the gunman -- a 40-year-old Army veteran and one-time white supremacist -- some Sikh community leaders have surmised that it may have been a case of mistaken identity, and that the real target was Muslims.

Sikhs suffered similar hate crimes after Sept. 11, 2001, because their religious attire requires them to wear turbans, which is often mistaken for the head dress worn by some Muslim extremists.

Regardless of the motivation, all minority groups should be concerned and vigilant, Sahloul says.

"We are used to these type of incidents, unfortunately," Sahloul said. "Even though we are now 11 years after 9/11, the percentage of people who have negative perceptions of Muslims or people who may look like Muslims is increasing."

Authorities need also to address the root cause of such hate crimes, which is unchecked homegrown extremist groups, said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"It takes a lot of energy for someone to kill someone they don't know, and that energy is provided by the hate groups out there that, to this moment, the politicians and the media have not taken very seriously," Rehab said. "It gives me concern about its germination, and we are seeing more and more of it. We are not linking the dots here. We have a daily diet of hate material that's broadcast on AM radio on cable stations and the Internet, and people react to that."

Several Muslim community representatives are joining a prayer vigil Monday night at the Sikh Religious Society gurdwara (temple) in Palatine to show solidarity.

"Sometimes a crisis makes a community coming together and getting stronger ... that's one of the positive consequences of such crises," Sahloul said. "It increases the solidarity of the faith communities."

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