Phoenix braces for 'Draw Mohammad' contest outside mosque

Reuters , Friday 29 May 2015

File Photo: The Islamic Community Center of Phoenix Monday, May 4, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Arizona police stepped up security on Friday near a mosque for a planned outdoor protest that includes drawing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, weeks after a similar competition in Texas came under attack by two gunmen.

Friday's event is set to run concurrently with evening prayers at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.

Most Muslims believe it is blasphemous to create pictures of the Prophet Mohammad.

"Dealing with this type of activity is a challenge that is facing law enforcement across the country," Phoenix police Sergeant Trent Crump said in an email response to questions.

"Dealing with groups of protesters and opposing views is not the difficult part. Our goal and the real challenge are trying to anticipate unlawful activities that might occur in conjunction with these events," he said.

Caricatures of the Prophet and celebrations of them have proven a flashpoint for violence in recent months. In January, gunmen killed 12 people at the Paris office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in an act of retribution for the magazine's cartoons featuring the Prophet.

A similar attack was foiled outside Dallas in early May when the two gunmen opened fire outside an exhibit of cartoons of Mohammad. The pair, who had attended the Phoenix mosque targeted in Friday's event, were shot dead by police without killing anyone.

Organizers of the Phoenix event described it as an act of retribution for the May 3 attack in the Dallas suburb of Garland.

"This is in response to the recent attack in Texas where 2 armed terrorists, with ties to ISIS, attempted jihad," organizers said in a Facebook posting, using a shorthand name for the Islamic State.

U.S. officials investigated claims that the Texas gunmen had ties to the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State militant group but never established a firm connection.

Phoenix's Mayor, Greg Stanton, said he did not think Friday's event was a "good idea" but said it would be allowed to go forward.

"It's not a good idea," Stanton told CNN. "I wish it wasn't happening in this location, in my city, but as mayor I can balance my responsibilities to the people of this city."

Organizers of the rally and officials at the mosque it is targeting could not be reached for immediate comment. Phoenix police declined to provide specific details of their preparations.

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