PHOENIX, ARIZONA: Arizona police stepped up security on Friday near a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona after a group of bikers planned to stage a protest outside with another group planning to stage a counter-protest against the bikers at the same venue, weeks after an event exhibiting sacrilegious cartoons in Garland, 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. The two gunmen who had attacked the event in Garland frequented the Phoenix mosque to offer their prayers. Many Muslims believe drawing pictures of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is blasphemous.
"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.
Events inviting people to draw sacrilegious cartoons 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 sacrilegious cartoons.
A similar attack was foiled outside Dallas in early May when the two gunmen opened fire outside an exhibit of cartoons of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
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 protest 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 two armed terrorists, with ties to ISIS, attempted jihad," organisers said in a Facebook posting, using a shorthand name for the Islamic State.
US 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, with the Pentagon saying that while they may have been inspired by IS, the two men had no real ties to the militant outfit.
On the other hand, 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."
Organisers of the rally and officials at the mosque it is targeting could not be reached for immediate comment but they had in recent days contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigations over threatening letters that they had received. Phoenix police declined to provide specific details of their preparations.
Meanwhile, counter-protesters, leading a peace rally decided to congregate outside the Phoenix mosque and offer their support to the local Muslim community.