Churchgoers rally for Muslims targeted by extremists

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SHAFAQNA – Church-goers in a small city in southwest Kansas marched in support of the local Muslim community, after details emerged of a foiled plot by a far-right militia to bomb an apartment complex where many immigrants live.

Federal investigators announced the arrest of three men on 14 October, for involvement in a domestic terrorism plot.

They had allegedly planned to blow up a suburban housing estate in Garden City where several African immigrant families lived, along with a community from Burma.

Hundreds of predominantly Christian residents of the city gathered outside the apartment complex on 15 and 16 October to show support for the immigrant communities. Many also attended a candlelit “unity walk” vigil on Saturday night.

Around 1,000 Muslim refugees, most from Somalia, but some from Ethiopia and Sudan, live in the city of 28,000 people. Most work in a meat-packing factory nearby.

Reverend Denise Pass, a Presbyterian Church pastor who organised the initial rallies, said she felt it was important to hold an event in solidarity with the families affected by the bomb scare.

She told Al Jazeera: “When I heard this tragic news, it came to my mind that we – as members of this community and as Christians – should support and protect the local Muslim community.”

The three terrorists were members of a small militia group who call themselves “the Crusaders”. According to an FBI agent’s affidavit, they hold “anti-government, anti-Muslim, and anti-immigrant extremist beliefs.”

Ms Pass said the majority of the Garden City population is not racist, anti-Muslim, or anti-immigration.

“The actions of few racist individuals should not be taken to represent the whole community, just as the Muslim community should not negatively labelled or held responsible for the actions of the very few terrorists who happened to be Muslims,” she said.

Halima Farh, a Somali refugee and shop manager, who lives in one of the flats the FBI said were targeted, has found most Garden City residents welcoming. She told local media she was shocked and scared when she heard about the plot, but after a meeting with the FBI and local police she felt safe again

“I was so scared, you know, but thank God nothing happened,” she said.

“I know these things are happening around the world, but I never thought it would come to Garden City.”

She added: “This changes nothing, though. I know Garden City is a good place full of lovely people.”

Steve Burgess owns the apartment complex affected and rents properties to more than 600 Somalians and Burmese. He told a local paper he is glad to provide homes to those new to the area and the country.

“We think they are good people, and if you take the time to teach them the rules, it can prove to be a successful relationship,” he said.

“We have to be willing to go ahead and work with these people. It’s keeping our economy going, and it’s good for our community.”

Stephanie Burgess-Blackburn, bookkeeper for the rental business, said since the alleged terrorist plot the company had been checking on residents.

“Since the bomb scare last week, we have been asking them how they are doing and if they are feeling safe. They said they were scared last week, but they are calming down now and feeling more comfortable again,” she said.

She added: “They don’t seem to be spiteful or revengeful in any way.”

Ms Pass, however, was concerned about Muslims not feeling safe in the US, especially amid Republican candidate Donald Trump’s explicitly anti-immigrant presidential campaign.

She said: “If I was a Muslim in the US today, I would feel very vulnerable and very threatened, that’s why it is important for us to make a stance here, because we are all God’s children.”

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