Heavily-armed Islamophobes protest outside Arizona mosque

About 250 people who carried pistols, assault rifles, American flags and drawings of the Prophet Mohammad marched to the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix where they were met by protesters showing their support for the Muslim community.

A member of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix talks with an anti-Islam demonstrator during the protests. Reuters
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PHOENIX // Heavily armed anti-Islam demonstrators showing cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed faced off against a counter demonstration outside a mosque in Arizona.

The rally on Friday was organised by a Phoenix man who said he was a former Marine who fought in Iraq. He led about 250 people who carried pistols, assault rifles, American flags and drawings of the Prophet Mohammed to the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix.

That group was met by an equal sized group of protesters, some holding signs promoting love and peace, who came to show their support for the mosque and the Muslim community.

As the two sides argued and yelled, dozens of police officers formed a line between them and kept them separated. There were no reports of injuries or arrests at the protest, which lasted a couple of hours and gained attention around the country on social media.

The president of the centre urged worshippers not to engage with the demonstrators.

“We should remind ourselves that we do not match wrongness with wrongness, but with grace and mercy and goodness,” Usama Shami told worshippers during Friday afternoon prayers.

The protest came about a month after a shoot-out outside a Prophet Mohammed cartoon-drawing contest in Dallas, Texas. Two Phoenix men arrived at the event with assault rifles and were killed by police.

“This is in response to the recent attack in Texas,” organiser Jon Ritzheimer wrote on his Facebook page, suggesting demonstrators should come with weapons in case our First Amendment “comes under much anticipated attack”.

Drawings of the Prophet Mohammed are deemed insulting to many followers of Islam and have been a flashpoint for violence in Europe and the US in recent months where those displaying or creating such images have been targeted by militants.

Meanwhile, anti-Muslim groups have been active in the US, buying ads and staging demonstrations characterising Islam as violent.

The Phoenix mosque targeted on Friday has condemned such violence, and held a series of sermons at Friday prayers last year by an imam who criticised militant groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda and Nigeria’s Boko Haram.

* Associated Press and Reuters