Durban police have launched a manhunt for three men who attacked a mosque on Thursday, stabbing three people and setting alight parts of the mosque. Apparently, one victim, who had his throat slit, died in hospital while the other two are in a critical condition.
The South African Police Service is investigating a case of murder and two cases of attempted murder.
According to Eye Witness News, a police representative, Nqobile Gwala, said, "The three worshippers were inside the mosque when the suspects entered, they stabbed all three of them and one of them later died in hospital. The other two are still being treated in hospital." The mosque's library was petrol bombed according to News24.
It remains unclear what the motive for the attack was, and authorities remain mum regarding whether the attack is being considered an act of terrorism or not.
The mosque is attended by Shia Muslims, leading some to suspect that sectarianism could be the cause, but Faisal Suleman, chairperson of the South African Muslim Network, warned against speculation in an interview with Al Jazeera.
"We condemn this attack and we are urging the law enforcement to spare no effort in apprehending the perpetrators alive so that the reasons become known. South Africa has not had such attacks in the past, so we caution against speculation," he reportedly said.
Islamic scholar, Shayk Rafeek Haseen, told community radio station Voice of the Cape, "It may be a case of money laundering or a personal issue between the perpetrators and the victims. I do not think we should jump to conclusions that this attack is motivated by sectarianism".
At around 14:30 on Thursday, the three suspects parked their car in a neighbour's driveway and entered the mosque. According to Azad Seedat, the mosque's chairperson, two people were inside the mosque when they attacked and the third person was stabbed when he entered the mosque to investigate the screams. The attackers then reportedly started fires before fleeing in a white Hyundai Getz.
Afzal Mitha told News24 that the Muslim cleric jumped out of a second-floor window after being stabbed. He reportedly said the attackers accused the men of "brainwashing people".
Speaking to TimesLive, one witness described the scene as a "slaughterhouse" saying, "I can't tell you how traumatic that was... I even saw one paramedic there go weak. The whole place was on fire‚ but obviously, at the time we were more concerned about the people who were hurt. Two of them were rushed away but one of the men from there was still being seen to by paramedics".
Prem Balram of the private security company, Reaction Unit South Africa, reportedly said: "Upon arrival‚ Reaction Unit officers found that two victims had their throats slit and were bleeding profusely. Paramedics were called to the scene to attend to the critically injured men. Reaction Unit officers then noticed smoke emanating from the mosque and attempted to douse the flames."
The Mercury reported that Balram said the attackers are believed to be Egyptian nationals.
News24 said The Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa "vehemently condemned" the attack and the Council's secretary general, Shayk Isgaak Taliep, reportedly said, "We reiterate and emphasise the core Islamic teaching and principle of 'respect for all human beings'."
"We... call on all communities to remain law-abiding citizens and refrain from any and all forms of vigilantism."
The South African Jewish Board of Deputies also condemned the attack.
"The South African Jewish Board of Deputies condemns in the strongest possible terms the attack in a mosque in KwaZulu-Natal. Places of worship should always provide a safe space and its sanctity should be respected," said the Board's vice-president, Zev Krengel.
TimesLive reported that Parliament's portfolio committee on police has called for the attack to be prioritised. The committee's chairperson, Francois Beukman, reportedly said, "A mosque is a religious institution‚ and South Africa's Constitution guarantees and protects the right to religious practices. This kind of attack on three innocent people is totally unjustified. We want our communities to live in harmony‚ practising their religions without fear."