Tense standoff outside US mosque over cartoon protest
Anti-Islam protesters – some of them heavily armed – faced off against religious rights demonstrators outside a US mosque on Friday, in a tense but peaceful standoff
A heavy police presence headed off serious trouble at an anti-Islam protest outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona on Friday.
Hundreds of supporters lined up behind Jon Ritzheimer, a former marine who had organised a “Draw Mohammed” rally.
They were confronted by hundreds of counter-protesters, who stood outside the mosque in a gesture of solidarity with the worshippers.
Between the ranks of protesters and counter-protesters were around 100 police, some in riot gear.
As a precaution police erected barriers to keep both sides apart and the tactic appeared to work, with the confrontations remaining verbal rather than physical.
By urging his supporters to draw Mohammed, Mr Ritzheimer was acting provocatively, because depicting the prophet is regarded as blasphemous by Muslims.
It was the cartoons of Mohammed in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which led to the massacre of 12 staff by Islamist militants.
Earlier this month two jihadist gunmen attacked a competition in which entrants drew cartoons of the prophet.
The two men, who were wearing body armour and armed with assault rifles, injured a security guard before being shot dead by a traffic policeman in Garland, Texas.
Organisers of the protest last night said they had targeted the mosque because, according to Mr Ritzheimer, the Texas gunmen had worshipped there.
Although Mr Ritzheimer said the Phoenix protest would be peaceful, supporters of the demonstration were urged to bring guns.
At least one of Mr Ritzheimer’s supporters could be seen with a gun in a holster.
While they waved cartoons of Mohammed and chanted anti-Islamic abuse, some counter-protesters responded with obscenities and others urged those present to love their neighbour.
Earlier Josh Earnest, the White House spokesman, had urged the Islamic community not to rise to the provocation.
“Even expressions that are offensive, that are distasteful, and intended to sow divisions in an otherwise tight-knit, diverse community in Phoenix cannot be used as a justification to carry out an act of violence,” he said.
The events in Phoenix were part of an anti-Islamic backlash in the US being orchestrated by groups such as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, an organisation launched by Pamela Geller.
Ms Geller, who played no part in the Phoenix demonstration, was denied entry into the UK by Theresa May along with Robert Spencer, her ally in another anti Muslim group, “Stop Islamisation of America”.
Another tactic has been to pay for advertising space for anti-Islam publicity on public transport.
The adverts did appear in New York, but yesterday officials in Washington DC, turned down a request to display likenesses of Mohammed on its buses and trains, fearing that they would be made a target.