A day after three knife-yielding men attacked as many people in a South African mosque killing one of them, investigators are focusing on a possible terror angle over signs of religious hatred.
The attackers also torched the library of the mosque in KwaZulu-Natal before fleeing on Thursday.
Amid a manhunt, police are investigating one count of murder, two of attempted murder and one count of assault. Police were clueless about the motive behind the attack. They could not confirm reports that the three attackers were Egyptians.
The attackers stormed the Imam Hussain Mosque (pictured: Photo credit – Reaction Unit South Africa) in Ottawa, Verulam, north of Durban around 2.30 pm after midday prayers. They then slit the throats of two men. One of the victims, Abbas Essop in his late twenties, died while being taken to hospital.
A Muslim cleric, who was stabbed multiple times, escaped the attackers by jumping out of the second-floor window of the mosque. The cleric and the other survivor are in critical condition in a hospital.
Essop’s friend, who was among the first to arrive at the mosque after hearing about the attack, was told by the cleric that the attackers kept saying that the mosque was brainwashing people.
Another man, who arrived at the mosque after the attack, said there was lot of blood on the floor and the place was on fire. Prem Balram of a private security company Reaction Unit South Africa said his personnel tried to put out the fire in the library.
Azad Seedat, the mosque’s chairperson, told local media that a terrorist group may be behind the attack on the mosque that draws large number of Shia Muslims.
The attack that happened days ahead of the holy month of Ramadhan was condemned by various groups.
Chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on police‚ Francois Beukman‚ said such attacks on innocent people are unjustified in communities that want to live in harmony and practise their religions without fear.
The Muslim Judicial Council said South African society is multicultural and individuals should refrain from all forms of vigilantism. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies said the sanctity of places of worship should be respected.