Opposing crowds gathered in Phoenix Friday near a mosque where a group planned a controversial “Muhammad cartoon contest” — an event organizers say is inspired by a similar competition in Texas that ended with bloodshed when two gunmen tried to attack it.There was a heavy police presence as the supporters from the two rallies converged near the mosque Friday evening. Some waved American flags and one man held a “Stop Islam” sign, while another held a sign reading “God is Love.” Police were seen standing in between the two groups.
The Facebook page for the event, called “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II,” outside of the Islamic Community Center said the gathering is “in response to the recent attack in Texas where 2 armed terrorist (sic), with ties to ISIS, attempted Jihad.”
Two gunmen were shot dead by SWAT officers after they opened fire at the May 3 Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest Garland, Texas. Drawing the Islamic prophet is considered sacrilegious by many Muslims. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, but there was no proof that the two shooters had any ties to the terror group.
Jon Ritzheimer, the organizer of the event, maintains that it is meant to be a peaceful protest, but on Facebook, he told people to come armed.
The Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) urged people in the area of the mosque not to engage with the protesters. The chapter’s president, Imraan Siddiqi, warned Muslims to avoid the area entirely.
A statement from CAIR said council officials met with law enforcement to discuss protecting worshippers.