Vancouver’s Muslim community is expressing shock and solidarity with the victims of a terror attack that claimed 49 lives in two New Zealand mosques.
A 28-year-old man has been charged with murder in the massacre, and two other people remain in police custody.
In Vancouver, Haroon Khan with the city’s oldest mosque, Al Masjid Al Jamia, said the attack was a horrific reminder of the mosque shooting in Quebec City in 2017 that left six people dead.
Listen: Vancouver’s oldest mosque to hold vigil for New Zealand terror attack victims
“It’s just terrifying and so utterly horrifying that this could happen in a place of worship,” he said. “We experienced this in the Quebec shooting where six people passed.
WATCH: Neetu Garcia has the initial reaction in the local Muslim community Friday morning
“Many of those emotions came flooding back from that horrible event. Really, our hearts are with the people of New Zealand.”
Khan added that the fact that the attack targeted a mosque has left the community feeling particularly rattled.
“For us, a mosque, a place of worship, is a place of refuge,” Khan explained. “And to not be safe in that place is very difficult to bear.”
WATCH: New Zealand shooting: Canada condemns ‘act of terrorism’ in Christchurch
Khan said since the attack, the RCMP, Vancouver police and senior levels of government have been in touch to express their support.
And he said the mosque at 655 W 8th Ave. was opening its doors to the public twice on Friday for anyone who wished to come and join them in solidarity.
The first opportunity will be during the Jummah Friday prayers from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. Later, a vigil will be held at 7:30 p.m., after evening prayers.
“Come into the mosque,” he said.
“We’d really like to put the message out to come pray with us to make the world a better place, and come pray with us wherever you are, whether you’re in your church, your synagogue, your temple.”
WATCH: Timeline of New Zealand mosque shootings
B.C. Muslim Association president Iltaf Sahib said his message to the Muslim community was to stay strong and not to fear.
He said the community has so far been overwhelmed with the level of support they’ve received.
“When last time we there was the shooting in the Quebec mosque we had very good support from our neighbours and everyone came together as one and visited our mosque,” he said.
“We’re getting the same type of support as well. My message to everyone out there is thank you so much for the support that we are getting and be strong.
“We cannot fight hate with hate, we have to show love and together we can make a difference.”
Police exercising ‘increased vigilance’
“We’re very thankful to the RCMP and the hate crime group that have been contacting me and we have been working out a plan as to how all the mosques around B.C. can be secured. They are patrolling the different mosques in the city as we speak,” said BC Muslim Association president Iltaf Sahib.
The B.C. RCMP said it had not identified any threats to mosques in the province, but said police have a strong relationship with faith leaders and would continue to “exercise increased vigilance.”
In Surrey, Mounties said they had received several requests for an increased police presence.
“We will be stepping up patrols in these areas to help alleviate the public’s concern for safety,” said Surrey RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Elanore Sturko.
WATCH: Canada’s connection to mosque shootings in New Zealand
“School Resource Officers from the Surrey RCMP Youth Unit will also be attending Muslim schools in Surrey in response to the devastating shootings in New Zealand.”
Vancouver police said they remained in “close communication” with the Muslim community to ensure they feel safe and supported.
“The VPD does not have any information that links the events in New Zealand to Vancouver,” said Const. Jason Doucette in an email.
“We have security experts that are in regular communication with other local, national and international agencies to share information and strategies.”
Terrorism expert and SFU Prof. Candyce Kelshall said Thursday’s attack is concerning because it gives violence-seeking white supremacists a hero to point to.
“ not that dissimilar from our home-grown ethno-nationalists, of which we have over 150 groups here in Canada, mostly in Quebec, but predominately in B.C.,” she said.
“The degree of concern is high… B.C. is one of the hotbeds for groups such as Soldiers of Odin, Wolves of Odin, Canadian infidel, the Clan, the names change, the groups change, but the idea, the doctrine, which is what this individual refers to in his “manifesto,” that doctrine of rising up in order to make sure the “white race” remains “pure,” is here in Canada.”
Anyone who sees something suspicious is encouraged to contact police, and anyone with information about possible national security threats is asked to contact the RCMP National Security Information Network at 1-800-420-5805.
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