An unidentified gunman fired into a mosque in Western Australia packed with hundreds of Muslims observing the holy month of Ramadan, but no one was hurt, police said yesterday.
Approximately 400 worshippers were praying at the mosque in suburban Mirrabooka in the west coast city of Perth when the shooting occurred on Friday evening, Western Australia state police Inspector Neville Patterson said.
"A single shot was fired from a high-powered rifle from outside the mosque through a window on the second level, narrowly missing a couple of worshippers," Patterson said.
The gunman, who fled the scene in a green sports utility vehicle, has yet to be identified, he said.
The bullet was lodged in the mosque wall and ballistics experts were searching for more clues.
Patterson said it was unclear whether the shooting represented an attempt to murder or to terrorize.
Ahdielah Edries, who was praying at the mosque, said the bullet narrowly missed her.
"I just felt something whizz past my ear and I immediately, instinctively, put my hands up to my ear and then a couple of seconds later there was an incredible bang," Edries said on Australian radio.
Ameer Ali, who heads the government's Islamic advisory committee, said that while this was the first shooting in an Australian mosque, others had been ransacked and worshippers' cars had been vandalized.
He suggested that an ongoing debate on the threat of radical Islam in Australia was encouraging violence and intimidation against Muslims.
"This is a criminal act, but my question is: where do the criminals get the courage to do this?" Ali said.
"It comes from what our leaders say in public, so I think our leaders share some responsibility for these acts," he added.
Ali, who heads of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, declined to identify the leaders whose comments he thought might have encouraged such attacks.
Prime Minister John Howard has described some segments of the Islamic community as "utterly antagonistic" to Australian society.
His ruling Liberal Party deputy, Peter Costello, recently said that Muslims who want to live under Islamic law have no place in Australia and insisted that all immigrants must embrace Australian values.
"Each time you pinpoint Islam as the problem, then these criminals say: we'll solve the problem for you," Ali said.
Concerns have been raised in the media about Middle Eastern imams who allegedly preach a more radical version of Islam being allowed to become Australian citizens.
The government recently announced plans to tighten citizenship requirements -- rules that some Muslims claim unfairly target their community.
During the holy month of Ramadan, which began last weekend, Muslims are expected to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk in order to focus on the spiritual.