Belgium arson kills imam
Women mourn outside of a Shi’ite mosque in Brussels on March 13. Local media late March 12 evening reported that an arson attack took place at the mosque and that the local Imam died of suffocation in a room inside. Authorities are investigating his motives and whether he had accomplices. AP photoAn ax-wielding arsonist burst into a Shiite mosque in Belgium on the evening of March 12, killing an imam and destroying much of the building in an attack local Muslims say was the work of Sunni extremist Salafis.
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 imam and 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 slightly injured. Police were unable to immediately name the 34-year-old 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.
Jean-Marc Meilleur, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, yesterday said the suspect, who was apprehended in the mosque, had given investigators three different names and ages. Meilleur said the suspect, who is probably in his mid-thirties, gave no reason for his actions.
Azzedine Laghmich, an official at the mosque, told Agence France-Presse the attacker was “a Salafist,” who sprayed gasoline inside the mosque before setting it alight and left shouting Sunni slogans on his way out – cries related to the conflict in Syria. “All the eyewitness accounts said [the same],” 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.
Condemnation from Turkey
Belgian Interior Minister Joelle Milquet said she was “very shocked by the events that have occurred,” which she condemned “with firmness and indignation.” Milquet suggested inter-religious strife may be to blame.
“This person went in (the mosque) hurling statements linked to the Syrian conflict. It appears to be a problem between Sunnis and Shiites,” Milquet said, adding that investigators still had to confirm the motive.
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.” Meilleur said the arson suspect had come armed with a knife and an ax, but that “people inside the mosque managed to lock him in the building” before police arrived.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Ömer Çelik condemned the attack via his Twitter account, saying that “I strongly condemn the arson committed at the Shiite mosque in Brussels. May Allah bless the imam who was martyred in this vicious attack.” Turkish European Union Minister Egemen Bağış wrote via his Twitter account that the condemnations of the attack were not enough to “remove the dagger stabbed into the heart of the EU,” calling on authorities to bring those responsible to justice and saying he would follow the case.
The area around the 2,000-person capacity mosque, one of four Shiite centers of worship in the city’s overwhelming majority Sunni Muslim community, has a large immigrant Muslim population.
The last time an imam was targeted in Brussels was in 1989, when Saudi-born Abdullah Muhammad al-Ahdal was shot dead. He served as imam in the Grand Mosque of Brussels and was killed by an armed man inside the mosque. A small pro-Iranian group in Lebanon claimed responsibility for al-Ahdal’s killing, saying he was too moderate and had rejected the death fatwa issued against writer Salman Rushdie.