Sikh killings spur concerns among area's religious minorities

Sikh, Muslim communities seek additional police protection

August 11, 2012|By Kevin Rector and Fakhar Durrani, The Baltimore Sun

Leaders of minority religious communities were requesting additional police protection as they prepared for weekend services after the fatal shooting of worshipers at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last Sunday.

Rehan Khan, president of the Masjid Al-Falaah mosque in Abingdon, said he has requested additional protection from the Harford County sheriff's office for the rest of Ramadan, which runs through mid-August, after members of the mosque expressed fears that they could be targeted.

"Most of the attacks on the Sikhs have been mistaken for Muslims, and that is why the Muslim community is afraid that this might happen to them," Khan said. "We do need to take safety measures, and we do need the state and local authorities to take adequate measures to protect our places of worship."

The Baltimore Sikh Society said the community would request additional police protection for Sunday services, citing fears of copycat attackers.

Wade Michael Page, the man with neo-Nazi ties who police say is responsible for the rampage at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killed himself outside the temple after being shot by police. The attack left six Sikh worshipers dead and wounded three others, including a police officer.

Police departments in the Baltimore region said they routinely work with religious organizations to ensure safety by sharing intelligence about threats and addressing specific concerns. They also increase patrols around religious institutions during holidays and other high-profile events, they said.

Still, events like the shooting in Oak Creek can stoke anxieties, said Cpl. Cathy Batton, a Baltimore County police spokeswoman.

"This happens often when we have a high-profile event somewhere else in the world or the nation, and that sparks a more specific dialogue," said Batton, who said local religious communities have "expressed heightened concern" this week.

Batton said law enforcement authorities want to be proactive about security, so they "don't only respond after something occurs." To that end, the department offers free security assessments to organizations — and residents — concerned about safety, Batton said.

Monica Worrell, a Harford County sheriff's office spokeswoman, said the agency is working with Khan and has increased patrols in the area surrounding the mosque. "We have a very good relationship with them and are committed to their safety," she said in an email.

Some religious community leaders said they are reassured by their existing security measures.

Magan Sureja, manager of the Greater Baltimore Hindu-Jain Temple in Finksburg, said he is not particularly afraid of violence there, in part because the temple has strong security.

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said his community has defended against intolerance for years, while installing fences, cameras, lights and other security measures at Jewish institutions throughout the Baltimore region. Abramson said the Oak Creek attack has been felt strongly by other religious minorities.

"It was a major tragedy, and it just shows where this blind hatred can lead," he said. "It reminds us all of what happens when this kind of thing remains unchecked, in terms of the ready ability of madmen to kill people."

Abramson said his organization has worked closely with a number of law enforcement agencies since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to beef up security at Jewish institutions in the region, and security is tight as a result.

"We are constantly seeking to find new ways to improve security," Abramson said.

"With or without Wisconsin, the tragedy that it was, it doesn't change the fact that we do everything we can on a regular basis to make sure that our Jewish institutions are secure," he said.

Suheil Bushrui, a behavioral sciences professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, said that while security is important, religious groups should not isolate themselves. A religious community should "open its doors, it should invite others in," he said.

"It is important so we can come to know each other," Bushrui said. "It takes effort, but it can be done."

Aegis reporter Bryna Zumer contributed to this article.

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