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SoCal mosques ask congregations to be vigilant after receiving threatening letters

Islamic mosque leaders in Southern California are adding more security and asking their communities to be wary as the number of centers receiving threatening letters climbs.

Congregations have been told to go about their business but remain vigilant after a handful of local mosques received the letters in recent days. Police are investigating.

The unidentified source of the letters cited the election of Donald Trump as president and threatens that he will “do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews.” The letters, written in longhand, denounce Muslims as “filth.” They call Trump the new sheriff in town, who is going to cleanse America of “filthy” Muslims.

The Los Angeles Police Department, FBI, and L.A. County Sheriff's Department joined the Muslim leaders Monday at a press conference to discuss the letters.

The FBI’s Dave Nance, who heads the agency’s civil rights division, condemned the letters. But he also said they are probably hate speech, rather than a hate crime.

“There is a difference between saying, for example, 'I want harm to come to you,' versus, 'I am going to do harm to you,'” Nance said. Without a direct threat, prosecution of the sender is unlikely.

Nonetheless, law enforcement appears to be throwing considerable resources at finding the person or persons, and some mosques are beefing up security. They believe it could be the work of one person — or several.

“What it tells me is that we obviously have someone who is troubled, and if nothing else, maybe we need to bring some resources to bear to get the person the kind of help they need,” said LAPD Commander Horace Frank of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau, which is overseeing investigations into two letters sent to L.A. Islamic centers.

“The rhetoric in the letter is very vile, and that concerns us, because incidents like these can evolve into something greater,” he said. At the same time, officials said the vast majority of such letters never result in violence.

At the Islamic Center of Southern California in Koreatown, one guard says that for the past few days, several men have been walking by wearing Donald Trump T-shirts and denouncing Muslims. The center was one of the mosques targeted.

Hedab Tarifi, who chairs the center, said she told those in her congregation not to change their usual routines, but to speak up.

“When something happens…don’t just ignore it. Do report it, because that is what is important for police, to start their investigation,” she said.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council confirmed that similar letters were received at four local Islamic centers, including in Koreatown, Pomona, Signal Hill and the San Fernando Valley. 

Tarifi and other leaders have recently beefed up security at their mosques. Tarifi said the police presence around the Islamic Center of Southern California had already been heavy after previous problems — in October, a man was arrested on suspicion of making threatening phone calls to the mosque.

Community leaders said they are bracing for more anti-Islamic incidents in the wake of President-elect Trump's repeated calls to deport illegal immigrants and impose "extreme vetting" on those applying to enter the country from Muslim countries.

The Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa did not receive a letter. But the mosque's imam, Moustafa al-Qazwini, said he has been alerting congregants.

“We are equipping our children, our families and our young ones that, listen, maybe the future is going to be tough, but you have to be tougher…this is your country,” he said.

This story has been updated.