A man who pretended to be interested in Islam infiltrated the United Islamic Center of Arizona on Saturday evening and made threats, Phoenix police reported.
Forty-year-old Noel Thomas Becht entered the house of worship at 19200 North 35th Avenue at about 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, stating “he was curious about the Muslim religion,” police said in a news release on Sunday morning.
“He was instructed to sit in on a prayer service,” police said. “Becht did so for a while, but began wandering around, entering rooms and areas he was not permitted to be in, without invitation. He asked unusual questions regarding service times at this Mosque and a Mosque in Tempe. When questioned by one of the leaders, Becht put his finger to his neck and made a sawing motion.”
Someone called police, who arrived soon after and took Becht into custody. He was later booked into jail on suspicion of threatening and intimidating, disorderly conduct, and trespassing.
“We remind everyone to contact the police if you observe suspicious behavior. If you see something, say something,” police said in the statement.
The arrest comes just days after armed white supremacists stormed two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, murdering 50 people.
The murders have heightened awareness around the world of the spreading threat of white supremacist terrorism. Following the tragic attack, social media users are praising a teenager who smashed an egg on the head of Australian politician Fraser Anning, who said the “real cause” of the Christchurch attack was “Muslim fanatics” who inspired the terrorists.
Public records show Becht may live in Tempe, and used to live in Whatcom County, Washington.