Man in US state of Arizona arrested over threatening gesture at mosque

A photo provided by the Phoenix Police Department of Noel Thomas Becht, an Arizona man who was arrested on March 16, 2019, for making a threatening gesture at people inside a mosque in Glendale, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, southwestern United States. EPA-EFE/Phoenix Police Department

Phoenix, Arizona, Mar 18 (efe-epa).- Police in this city in the southwestern United States arrested a man for making a threatening gesture at several people during a visit to a mosque over the weekend.

Police say Noel Thomas Becht entered the United Islamic Center of Arizona in Glendale, a Phoenix suburb, at around 7.30 pm Saturday under the pretext of wanting to learn more about the Muslim religion.

Becht was allowed by mosque members to attend a prayer ceremony and remained seated for a while, but he then began wandering around the building and entering rooms and areas that were off-limits, authorities said.

According to police, Becht also started asking mosque members «unusual questions» about service times at the UICA and at another mosque in Tempe, Arizona.

When a mosque leader asked him why he wanted that information, Becht allegedly «put his finger to his neck and made a sawing motion,» police said.

Police were called to the scene, leading to Becht being arrested and booked into the Maricopa County Jail, Phoenix police said in a statement.

The suspect has been charged with threatening and intimidating, as well as disorderly conduct and trespassing.

The arrest came a day after 50 people were killed in shooting attacks carried out at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The alleged lone perpetrator of that massacre, a 28-year-old Australian white supremacist identified as Brenton Tarrant who live-streamed the attacks on Facebook, has been arrested and charged with murder.

A total of 42 people died at Al-Noor mosque in central Christchurch, while seven others perished at the Linwood Islamic Centre in the suburb of Linwood. One more person died after being taken to a hospital.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has described the mass shootings as a terrorist attack.

New York City and the state of New York announced that they were bolstering security in the vicinity of mosques and other places of worship following the Christchurch mosque attacks.

«In the wake of this disgusting act of bigoted violence, which appears to be rooted in Islamophobia, New York stands with the Muslim community as we always have and always will,» the governor of New York state, Andrew Cuomo, said last Friday.