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Brussels mosque blaze suspect aimed to 'scare' Shiites

4 min

The man who has claimed responsibility for a blaze at a Brussels mosque that left an imam dead said on Tuesday that he set the fire seeking to "scare" Shiites, who he blames for the violence and unrest in Syria.


AFP - The suspected arsonist behind a deadly fire at a Brussels mosque said Tuesday he set the Shiite place of worship ablaze to scare the community he blames for the violence in Syria, officials said.

Belgium's Muslim community was in shock a day after the attack that left an imam dead.

The suspect, a self-described Muslim in his mid-30s, told investigators he sought to "scare" the Shiite community as it was allegedly responsible for Syria's crackdown on dissent, the public prosecutor's office said.

Under questioning the man said "he was shocked by the pictures of what was going on in Syria and wanted to do something to scare members of the community which was responsible" for the violence, spokesman Jean-Marc Meilleur told the press.

The suspect, who presented himself as a Sunni Muslim, was charged with arson resulting in death and remanded in custody. The fact that the attack late Monday was based on religious beliefs is an aggravating factor, said Meilleur.

The man told investigators he had acted alone and decided to carry out the attack two weeks ago but had had no intention to kill.

If not arrested he would have surrendered to the police, he also told the authorities.

As investigators interrogated him, members of Belgium's Shiite and Sunni communities met to ensure calm after the arson attack, which also left two other people injured.

Interior Minister Joelle Milquet suggested inter-religious strife may be to blame after the man stormed into the Rida mosque with an axe, a knife and fuel, shouting about the conflict in Syria.

"It appears to be a problem between Sunnis and Shiites," Milquet told RTBF broadcaster.

"Belgium will not tolerate this type of act and the importing of this type of conflict on its territory," she said, adding that the government would take "all necessary measures" in coming days to prevent attacks.

Centuries-old tensions between Islam's Sunni and Shiite movements have fuelled violence in several Muslim countries, from Iraq to Yemen and Pakistan.

But the vice president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium (EMB) group, Isabelle Praile, rejected any links between conflicts abroad and the arson, calling it "an isolated case".

While insisting the two communities live in peace in Brussels, she did call for extra security for worshippers, saying that the attack "revived a feeling of insecurity among Shiites".

Meilleur said authorities were still trying to determine the suspect's identity. He gave three different names and indicated he was an illegal immigrant.

"He said he has a Moroccan passport and lives somewhere in Belgium, but did not want to say where," said Meilleur.

The suspect may also be charged with carrying out "an act of terrorism".

The mayor of the city's Anderlecht ward, Gaetan Van Goidsenhoven, said Sunnis and Shiites were "thirsty for reconciliation" when they met after the arson attack.

"They expressed the need for calm to return, for all beliefs to be respected," he said.

More than 100 men gathered near the Rida mosque shortly after the fire, shouting Shiite slogans as others hugged or cried over the death of imam Abdallah Dadou, a 46-year-old father of four who died of smoke inhalation.

Around 15 worshippers returned to the scene of the fire on Tuesday, staring at the heavily-damaged building.

The area around the Brussels mosque, one of four Shiite centres of worship in the city's overwhelming majority Sunni community, has a large immigrant Muslim population.

A mosque official, Azzedine Laghmich, said the attacker was a Sunni Salafist who shouted Sunni slogans and something about the conflict in Syria.

The mosque had already been placed under police protection several years ago due to threats from members of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement, Praile said.

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 in March of that year by an armed man inside the mosque.

His killing was claimed by a small pro-Iranian group in Lebanon who accused him of being too moderate and of having rejected the Iranian death fatwa slapped on writer Salman Rushdie.

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