Attackers entered a South African mosque after midday prayers, stabbed three people, and set the building on fire before fleeing.
One person was killed and two victims were in critical condition on Thursday after the mosque attack in the eastern town of Verulam, just north of the city of Durban, South Africa‘s state broadcaster SABC reported.
Images showed men receiving medical care on the ground outside the mosque. One man’s white robe was soaked in blood.
“The imam, who had his throat slit, has passed away a few minutes ago due to his injuries,” said Paul Herbst, spokesman for the private IPSS medical rescue service.
A manhunt was under way for the assailants. Police Captain Nqobile Gwala in KwaZulu-Natal province said investigators are looking at three counts of attempted murder and arson.
“The motive of the attack on the three men is unknown at this stage,” Gwala said.
The incident appeared to be unprecedented in South Africa, where about 1.5 percent of the country’s 55 million population is Muslim.
“It is the first time anything like this has happened in South Africa, let alone in KwaZulu-Natal province,” said Faizel Suliman, chairman of the SA Muslim Network.
Prem Balram, spokesman for the Reaction Unit South Africa security company, said he arrived at the mosque to find two victims covered in blood lying in the forecourt of the mosque.
He said a third victim was attacked inside the building and jumped out of a window when it was set alight.
“Eyewitnesses said three attackers with guns had used knives. One knife was left behind,” Balram said. “There have been theft and robbery incidents at mosques before, but not like this, when nothing appears to have been taken.”
Nick Piper, a director at Signal Risk, an Africa-focused risk management firm, said South Africa has a “low baseline terrorism risk”.
“Incidents of this nature are – on average and without further evidence – more likely to be linked to personal or communal grievances than acts of terror as we understand them,” he said.
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies