Wed, Mar 14, 2012 - Page 6 News List

Axe-wielding arsonist kills imam in Brussels mosque

AFP, BRUSSELS

An axe-wielding arsonist burst into a Shiite Belgian mosque on Monday, killing the imam and destroying much of the building in an attack local Muslims tipped as the work of Sunni extremists.

Police said the man, detained after mosque personnel trapped him inside the building, apparently used fuel to set fire to the Rida mosque near Brussels’ international rail hub, killing 46-year-old father-of-four Abdallah Dadou.

The victim, who died of smoke inhalation, was described by worshipper Abdel Adouzeyneb, a 39-year-old real-estate agent, as “a person who was loved by everybody — he was open, well integrated, smiling and happy.”

A second person who was with the victim at the time of the attack was lightly injured.

Police were unable to name the suspect as he lacked identity papers, but authorities said the man described himself as a Muslim born in 1978. Authorities are investigating his motives and whether he had accomplices.

Azzedine Laghmich, an official at the mosque, said the attacker was “a Salafist,” who sprayed gasoline inside the mosque before setting it alight and shouting Sunni slogans on his way out —- cries related to the conflict in Syria.

“All the eyewitness accounts said so,” Laghmich added.

Isabelle Praile, another senior official in Belgium’s organized Muslim community, said the Rida mosque “had already been placed under police protection several years ago,” citing direct threats from members of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement.

Around 100 men gathered on the edge of a police cordon near the mosque, angrily chanting Shiite slogans while some cried and others hugged and prayed. Police forensics teams scoured the scene of the attack.

“I brought my eight-year-old son here with me so that he can see blind hate, what it can do,” said Ismael Ben Mohammad, 40, adding that he felt “a sadness difficult to describe.”

The mayor of the city’s Anderlecht ward, Gaetan Van Goidsenhoven, appealed for calm at an overnight press conference, saying it was “not only necessary to live side-by-side, but also to allow justice and the police to do their work.”

Prosecutor Jean-Marc Meilleur said the arson suspect had come armed with a knife and an axe, but that “people inside the mosque managed to lock him in the building” before police arrived.

“At the moment, there is only one suspect,” he said, without excluding accomplices and stressing it was “too soon” to pin down possible motives.

The area around the 2,000-capacity mosque, one of four Shiite centers of worship in the city’s overwhelming majority Sunni Muslim community, has a large immigrant Muslim population.

Police said they received a call at 6:45pm and the body was pulled out 45 minutes later.

Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said she was “very shocked by the events that have occurred” which she condemned “with firmness and indignation.”

Fadila Laanan, a regional minister, said on her Twitter account that she was “scandalized by this attack in my community against a mosque ... A man is dead and that is despicable, nothing can excuse such an act.”

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