(RNS) — Thursday evening, The Islamic Society of Baltimore mosque received a threatening call while the community was preparing for an evening event, which it canceled shorty after. The call came two weeks after another mosque, Muhammad Mosque, the oldest mosque in Washington, was targeted by a bomb threat.
During the brief call answered by a mosque employee, the individual referred to the 2019 attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that killed 51 and injured 40, before saying they would come to the Baltimore mosque.
“We increased security and we had our local police team there,” said Hasan Hammad, president of the mosque. “Of course people are worried and concerned because Islamophobia and hate on Muslims are a real thing.”
The congregation held a prayer service under high surveillance this Friday.
Zainab Chaudry, Maryland chapter director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim civil rights organization, said Thursday’s incident reflects “increased animosity towards houses of worship and (the) Muslim community.”
In addition to the more credible threats of the last month, numerous hoax calls targeting synagogues, churches and mosques have been reported this summer.
The Washington mosque’s weekly Friday afternoon service was interrupted and its congregants evacuated Aug. 18 after the mosque’s leaders received a call saying a bomb had been left on the premises. The incident was aired during the mosque livestream service. Once the building had been cleared of the hundreds of people who had assembled for worship, Metropolitan Police Department officers searched the building but found no explosives. The service later resumed, but the incident was classified as a “felony offense hate crime” by MPD.
Following its usual policy, the FBI would not confirm whether or not it was investigating either case. “The FBI takes threats to houses of worship very seriously (…) We work closely with our local law enforcement partners to assess and respond to threats and keep our community safe,” wrote the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office spokesperson in a statement.
Since late July, 25 synagogues and two Anti-Defamation League chapters have also received threatening calls using “very antisemitic language,” said ADL spokesperson Jake Hyman in a CNN interview.
In a statement released on Aug. 31, the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged “religious institutions nationwide to take extra security precautions” by applying to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, a Federal Emergency Management Agency fund available to support expanding security measures at any nonprofit organization that is considered highly prone to a terrorist attack. During the 2023 fiscal year, $305 million was made available by the fund.
“We want to encourage our communities to not live in fear (…) We refuse to let these cowardly attempts undermine our commitment to our faith. We simply encourage everyone to be extra careful and have vigilant practices and common sense,” said Chaudry.
The council also referred leaders to their “Best Practices for Mosque and Community Safety” guidelines, which recommend equipping buildings with alarms, cameras and solid doors.