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US Muslim groups condemn Orlando nightclub shooting amid fears of backlash

Julien Peyron, FRANCE 24 | Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving just outside of Dallas, Texas on June 12, 2016

American Muslim groups swiftly condemned this weekend’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, amid fears of a possible backlash to the attack, which was claimed by the Islamic State (IS) group.

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“This is a hate crime, plain and simple, we condemn it in the strongest possible terms,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, said. “We will not give into hate. We will not give into fear.”

The US Council of Muslim Organizations also expressed its “horror” at the attack, urging the Muslim community in the Orlando area to donate blood for the victims.

Forty-nine people were killed and 53 wounded after a gunman opened fire at the Pulse nightclub in the heart of Orlando shortly after 2am on Sunday, in what is the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history.

The attacker – identified as Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old New York-born son of Afghan immigrants – called emergency services during the massacre to declare his allegiance to the IS group, according to officials. The organisation’s Amaq news agency later claimed that it was responsible for the shooting.

Fears of backlash

The tragic shooting has raised fears among some within the Muslim community of a possible backlash.

Hate crimes against Muslims tripled in the US immediately after last year’s attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, from an average of 12.6 per month to 38, the New York Times reported at the time, citing research by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism.

This, combined with anti-Islamic rhetoric by politicians such as presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump – who notoriously called for Muslims to be temporarily barred entry to the United States – has compounded fears.

At the Islamic Center of Irving just outside of Dallas, Texas, Imam Zia Sheikh said that he had warned worshippers to “keep a low profile” in the wake of the Orlando nightclub shooting.

“After the San Bernardino shootings, armed men came to protest in front of the mosque. It was the same after the attacks in Paris. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come back soon,” Imam Zia Sheikh told FRANCE 24. “I’ve advised [worshippers] not to go out too much in the coming days, to keep a low profile until things calm down. It’s certain that Donald Trump will try to use what’s happened to stigmatise us again.”

The Islamic Center of Irving near Dallas, Texas.
The Islamic Center of Irving near Dallas, Texas.

Trump reiterates call for ban on Muslims

Trump, who is due to give a speech about national security on Monday, responded to the attack by reiterating his controversial call for a “ban” on Muslims. “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough,” he tweeted.

He also blamed the Muslim community for failing to report potential suspects like Mateen to the authorities in a phone interview with CNN on Monday.

“You will find that many people that knew him felt that he was a whack job ... (that) something like this would have happened,” Trump said. “For some reason the Muslim community does not report people like this.”

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, however, warned on Monday against the dangers of “demonising” all Muslims, while also calling for tougher measures to prevent so-called “lone-wolf” attacks.

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