Police in Edmonton say a group that entered a mosque and later argued with people outside is on their radar, but one member says he was only there to learn more about Islam and just went inside to use the bathroom.
Noor Al-Henday, a spokeswoman for the Al Rashid mosque, said two men entered the building Friday before prayers and appeared to be scouting the building. She alleged that security video shows them looking into the gym and the men’s area, and that one of them then went upstairs in the women’s area before peeking inside, then coming down again and entering a washroom.
Al-Henday said the mosque’s executive director spotted one of the men and asked him if he needed help. She said that’s when a man who was wearing a toque with the word “infidel” written in Arabic joined them, but she said the pair weren’t interested in a chat and made their way out of the building.
“They went outside and our camera footage shows they met up with two other men. I’m not sure if there were more. And they got in a confrontation with our community, with some of the community members who were outside,” Al-Henday said.
A nine-minute livestream video of the encounter outdoors was recorded and posted to Facebook by Ty Hunt, who said he entered the mosque. The video appears to show an argument about Islam.
One of the men in the video suggests one of the people attending the mosque was from another country, drawing a passioned response.
“I was born at York Finch General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada,” replied the man, who identified himself as Warren Wheeler. “My father’s from Newfoundland. My mother is from Jamaica.”
Officers were called to the incident but they say no arrests were made.
Police spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout said in an email that the force’s Hate Crimes and Violent Extremism Unit was consulted in the investigation.
“Hate Crimes unit is aware of this group and is monitoring their activities,” Voordenhout said.
Hunt, who acknowledges he has a tattoo of the word “infidel” on his neck and was formerly with the group Soldiers of Odin, told The Canadian Press on Facebook that he was at the mosque “to engage in a conversation to ask about Islam” and just stepped inside for a bathroom break.
“I hear a lot of right-wing propaganda about Islam. Because of the media attention when I was with Soldiers of Odin, it’s been difficult to meet with Muslims anymore,” Hunt wrote.
“The location of the mosque is not close to other bathrooms. Two weeks ago I was in a Christian church in Leduc and used that bathroom too but (there was) a lot less media attention.”
Al-Henday said the mosque believes the men intended to provoke.
“When our executive director approached them and asked them if they needed any help, they did not want to talk to anybody from inside the mosque on our staff,” she said.
“I mean, you walk into a mosque with a toque that looks like that and just trying to show your faces in multiple places, that cannot be a sign for a good thing.”
Hunt said the Muslim community has since reached out to him and he’s making arrangements to meet.
Politicians on both sides of the Alberta legislature weighed in on Saturday to condemn racism.
“This is odious and has no place in our Alberta. All Albertans must be able to practice their faith in peace without threat or intimidation,” tweeted Jason Kenney, leader of the Alberta United Conservative Party, along with photos and a news story about the confrontation.
Premier Rachel Notley condemned hate in a tweet on Saturday as well, although it wasn’t clear if she was speaking directly about Friday’s incident.
“Hearing that a hate group is openly harassing & terrorizing people in #yeg with racist & homophobic attacks & posters is beyond upsetting,” the premier wrote.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press