Western Cape mosque attack leaves three dead
 
Rebecca Davis
 
Daily Maverick,
14 June 2018

Western Cape police have confirmed three deaths following an attack at a mosque in Malmesbury, outside Cape Town, in the early hours of Thursday morning. Worshippers appear to have been set upon by a man with a knife who was subsequently shot to death by police. The attack comes just over a month after an attack on a mosque in KwaZulu-Natal saw one man’s throat slit and two others left badly wounded.

A Thursday morning attack on a Malmesbury mosque has been confirmed by both police and Muslim authorities, with the death toll currently understood to be at three people.

“Provincial detectives are currently combing the scene for clues following the stabbing to death of two people at a mosque in Malmesbury,” the South African Police Service tweeted early on Thursday.

“Suspect armed with a knife fatally shot by police. IPID (the Independent Police Investigative Directorate) at the scene.”

The involvement of IPID is required whenever a suspect is killed by police, as appears to have happened in this case.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has released a statement declaring itself “shocked to its core” by the “brutal attack on the Malmesbury Masjied (outside) Cape Town in the early hours of this morning”.

The MJC said that the attack took place while worshippers were engaged in tikaaf: a period of intense prayer undertaken towards the end of Ramadan where believers stay secluded within the mosque.

“We do not have any further details as yet but we urge the community not to jump to any conclusions until clarity can be given,” the MJC said.

WhenDaily Maverick contacted the mosque for comment, a representative said that the MJC had ordered that no comment be given to journalists for the time being.

He confirmed that the mosque in question is a Sunni mosque.

The mosque targeted for attack in Ottawa in kwaZulu-Natal on 10 May 2018 was a Shi’a mosque, giving rise to speculation that sectarian tensions could be behind that violence.

Despite the fact that the attack, near Verulam, happened over a month ago, the Hawks have made no arrests and have stayed tight-lipped about the progress of the investigation.

As Daily Maverick reported earlier this week, the absence of communication about the investigation has led to heightened tensions within the Muslim community.

Religious leaders have reported death threats and backlash following calls for greater Shi’a-Sunni understanding, while some mosques have ramped up security in fear of another attack. Those fears now appear to have been realised. DM

This is a developing story, with a full report from Daily Maverick on its way


Cape Town Shia community ‘tense’ after KZN mosque attack

Jenni Evans

 
News24,
14 May 2018
 

Cape Town’s Muslim Shia community is “tense”, says Moulana Syed Aftab Haider, after a deadly attack on a Shia mosque in Verulam last week. They are trying to raise money for extra security.

Haider is a moulana at the relatively new Shia mosque in Ottery, Cape Town called the Ahlul Bait Islamic Centre, which was opened in December.

The majority of Muslims in South Africa are Sunni Muslims.

The Imam Hussain Mosque in Old Main Road in Ottawa, Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal was targeted on Thursday by three men, who attacked worshippers before they set it alight.

One person died after his throat was slit while two others, including the mosque’s imam, were stabbed.

On Sunday, an apparent explosive device was also discovered inside the mosque underneath the moulana’s chair.

Read: Alleged explosive device found at previously attacked KZN mosque

The Hawks have since confirmed that it was a bomb and said they are investigating “elements of extremism”. No arrests have been made.

“It is creating panic in the community,” Haider told News24.

“We are trying to keep as calm as possible,” he said.

The Ahlul Bait Mosque complex also has centres in Philippi and Gugulethu, all within Cape Town.

Read more: New mosque in Ottery

“It is very tense,” said Haider.

“All our mosques and centres, and institutions are on alert.”

He said the attack in KwaZulu-Natal “has all the hallmarks of extremism”, with the physical attacks, the torching of the library and the burning of holy books. Yet equipment, money, and the charity collection box were left untouched.

In a copy of last Friday’s Jumuah (afternoon congregational prayer) lecture at the Ottery mosque by one of the worshippers Bashier Rahim, condolences were sent to the family of Abbas Essop, who was killed in the Verulam attack and people were urged to not do anything “crazy”.

“Don’t react by doing anything crazy. Instead, rather show more mercy to others and to our Muslim community at large and restrain ourselves,” he said.


Verulam mosque attack: ‘First they prayed, and then they wanted to kill’
Mxolisi Mngadi
 
News24,
11 May 2018
 

First they prayed, and then they wanted to kill.

That’s according to Ali Nchiyane, the imam of the Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, who survived an attack on worshippers on Thursday afternoon.

One person died, while two others – including Nchiyane – were left seriously injured after three men targeted the mosque, setting it on fire.

The Hawks are investigating, but no one has been arrested.

Speaking to the media on Friday, Nchiyane, along with other members of the Shia mosque, relived their ordeal.

He said the attackers had said they wanted to pray when they came to the gate.

“They prayed and, after they prayed, they wanted to kill,” said Nchiyane from KwaNdebele.

He said he had been told: “I will kill you”.

“He was going to kill me. If I did not fight back, I would have been dead by now. I just hope and pray that the culprits will be apprehended and dealt with justly,” Nchiyane said.

READ: Bleeding Muslim cleric jumped out of window to escape KZN mosque attackers

He said the only way he was able to survive was because he had martial arts training and he had used his nunchucku sticks to fend off the attackers.

“I was able to fight them and survived,” he said, adding that he believed it was a terrorist attack.

‘Definitely terrorist attacks’

Nchiyane said he was stabbed three times and was discharged from hospital on Thursday night.

He was stabbed once in the neck and twice in his chest.

“These attacks were definitely terrorist attacks. There is no doubt about it. They definitely had a religious motive,” Nchiyane said.

He reiterated that the attackers were not robbers.

“They did not want phones, they did not want laptops, and they did not want money and clothes. They strictly wanted to kill us,” he said.

The mosque’s caretaker, Mohammed Ali, was still in a critical condition in hospital.
That’s according to Ali Nchiyane, the imam of the Imam Hussain Mosque in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, who survived an attack on worshippers on Thursday afternoon.First they prayed, and then they wanted to kill.

One person died, while two others – including Nchiyane – were left seriously injured after three men targeted the mosque, setting it on fire. 

The Hawks are investigating, but no one has been arrested. 

Speaking to the media on Friday, Nchiyane, along with other members of the Shia mosque, relived their ordeal.

He said the attackers had said they wanted to pray when they came to the gate.

“They prayed and, after they prayed, they wanted to kill,” said Nchiyane from KwaNdebele.

He said he had been told: “I will kill you”. 

“He was going to kill me. If I did not fight back, I would have been dead by now. I just hope and pray that the culprits will be apprehended and dealt with justly,” Nchiyane said.

READ: Bleeding Muslim cleric jumped out of window to escape KZN mosque attackers

He said the only way he was able to survive was because he had martial arts training and he had used his nunchucku sticks to fend off the attackers.

“I was able to fight them and survived,” he said, adding that he believed it was a terrorist attack.

‘Definitely terrorist attacks’

Nchiyane said he was stabbed three times and was discharged from hospital on Thursday night.

He was stabbed once in the neck and twice in his chest.

“These attacks were definitely terrorist attacks. There is no doubt about it. They definitely had a religious motive,” Nchiyane said.

He reiterated that the attackers were not robbers.

“They did not want phones, they did not want laptops, and they did not want money and clothes. They strictly wanted to kill us,” he said.

The mosque’s caretaker, Mohammed Ali, was still in a critical condition in hospital.

A third man, Abbas Essop died while on his way to hospital on Thursday.

Essop was across the road from the mosque when the attack occurred.

He was attacked when he ran inside to investigate after hearing screams.

Nchiyane said he felt “unlucky” that he had survived, because of the high status Islam gives to those who give their lives to save others.

“A person who dies protecting others, the same way as brother Abbas [did], is viewed as a victory in Islam. He sacrificed his own self to protect somebody else. He is a hero and somebody who needs to be celebrated. He ran from across the street to help the brother who was attacked. This is a great fortune for him,” he said.

‘Ideology of hate’

Moulana Aftabi Haider said Mohammed Ali had undergone surgery. 

“He is the person who faced the whole situation. He is the caretaker,” he said, explaining that Ali was the one who had opened the gate for the attackers after they said they wanted to pray.

Activities at the mosque have since been suspended, while police carry out their investigation, but they are expected to resume either late on Friday or on Saturday.

READ: Verulam mosque attack: Victim to be buried while all activities suspended

Haider said security would, however, be tightened at the mosque.

“We believe that this is the job of a few individuals who are indoctrinated by ideology of hate and discrimination and extremism…” he said.

Haider said the mosque’s Qur’ans had been burnt when its library was petrol bombed.

He said they, as the Shia Muslim community, would like to condemn “this heinous, senseless, inhuman crime against a place of worship and peace”.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo said they were investigating two counts of attempted murder, one of murder and one of arson.

He said there were elements of extremism in the attack.


Second deadly mosque attack leaves South Africa reeling

By Rebecca Davis•15 June 2018

Daily Maverick

Two people were killed and several injured in a moque attack in the early hours of Thursday 14 June 2018 in Malmesbury, situated in the Western Cape. The suspect was armed and after having fled to a nearby field, was fatally shot by police. Photo by Leila Dougan Less

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The holy month of Ramadaan has been bookended by two deadly attacks in South African mosques. In both incidents, mosques in quiet rural areas were targeted, and attackers used knives to slit victims’ throats. Police say it’s too early to connect the attacks in Verulam and Malmesbury – but while Muslim authorities call for calm, fears are rising as to the meaning of this violence.

On an icy morning in the quiet Western Cape country town of Malmesbury, a body lay exposed to the elements on a field.

Around it, police were busy analysing what had become a crime scene in the hours just before dawn on June 15, 2018. It was to this patch of grass that a man had been chased after allegedly turning on the late-night inhabitants of a nearby mosque with a knife, killing two and injuring at least two more. And it was here that police would gun him down, amid circumstances that are still unclear.

A few hundred metres down a quiet suburban road, the Malmesbury Sunni Mosque had been cordoned off with police tape. A police dog was sniffing the perimeter with his handler.

Two people were killed and several injured in a mosque attack in the early hours of Thursday 14 June 2018 in Malmesbury, situated in the Western Cape. The suspect was armed and after having fled to a nearby field, was fatally shot by police. Photo by Leila Dougan

Neighbours across the road gathered on stoeps to chat quietly, still shaken by the events of a few hours earlier.

“I can’t believe something like this could happen in Malmesbury,” said an elderly man who would identify himself only as Brian.

Brian lives directly opposite the mosque. In the early hours of the morning, he says he heard raised voices. At first he thought they belonged to children, before realising they were the voices of “big people”. Still, it never occurred to him that anything very serious was happening.

“I never heard no gunshots,” Brian says.

A man sits inside St Thomas The Apostle, looking out on to a field where the Malmesbury mosque attacker was fatally shot by police on Thursday 14 June 2018.  Photo by Leila Dougan

From the house next door to the mosque, a steady stream of people came and went throughout the morning. This was the home of 74-year-old Ismail Bassa, a retired sales rep who was a faithful worshipper at the mosque.

Bassa was spending Wednesday night in the mosque, engaging in an intense form of devotion called tikaaf, which sees men seclude themselves in mosques to pray in the final days of Ramadaan.

Two people were killed and several injured in a mosque (pictured) attack in the early hours of Thursday 14 June 2018 in Malmesbury. Photo by Leila Dougan

His relative Marwan Solomon told Daily Maverick the story of what they believe happened to Bassa – an account they have pieced together from the testimony of Bassa’s two sons, and which has yet to be fully confirmed by police.

“In the late hours of last night, the murderer walked into the mosque and requested shelter. The imam accepted him in because this is the time of tikaaf,” Solomon said.

Somewhere between 3 and 4am, the late arrival to the mosque suddenly launched an attack – “slashing and stabbing”, says Solomon.

“A lot of the worshippers were able to manoeuvre and get themselves out of the mosque. However Ismail Bassa, being old, wasn’t able to move as fast as everyone else. He got his throat slit.”

Two people were killed and several injured in a moque attack in the early hours of Thursday 14 June 2018 in Malmesbury, situated in the Western Cape. The suspect was armed and after having fled to a nearby field, was fatally shot by police. Photo by Leila Dougan

Another worshipper, reportedly of Somali origin, was also murdered. Bassa’s son Faizel attempted to wrest the knife from the attacker and was stabbed several times, though he survived.

“The funny thing is that the murderer was still in the mosque [afterwards],” claims Solomon. “So he didn’t just murder everybody and then leave. He was still hanging around looking for other people.”

Leaving the mosque, the attacker allegedly headed up the road.

Malmesbury police constable Henry Durant had earlier described the attacker’s demeanour to journalists as “very calm — he did not run, he walked away”.

Solomon says that Bassa’s other son Saud proceeded to give chase after the attacker in his car and “knocked him a few times”, but the attacker was still able to escape. He had been chased to the nearby field when police arrived on the scene.

What happened next is unclear. Police spokesperson Andre Traut described it thus: “Police tried to persuade him to hand himself over. He ignored the calls and tried to attack police”.

The Muslim Judicial Council, which was in swift contact with the mosque and Bassa’s family after the attack, said in a statement: “In a hostile attack on the police, the assailant was killed”.

There is no suggestion that the attacker was carrying anything beyond a knife, which could be seen lying next to his body before police removed it. From the position of the body, it appeared that the attacker was shot and killed in the middle of the field.

Two people were killed and several injured in a moque attack in the early hours of Thursday 14 June 2018 in Malmesbury, situated in the Western Cape. The suspect was armed and after having fled to a nearby field, was fatally shot by police. Photo by Leila Dougan

It will now be the responsibility of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) to determine the events that led to the attacker’s fatal shooting. And while few may lament his death, his killing may have also put paid to the chance to find out what lay beneath his act of terror.

Bassa’s family say that the attacker appeared to be of Somali origin, and had said that he was in need of shelter while making his way from Bellville to Vredenburg.

Adjacent to the field where the attacker died, the St Thomas the Apostle Church became a makeshift media centre in the hours after the killings.

“We pray for the people of Malmesbury,” read a sign taped to the church door.

At its gates, a group of Somali locals gathered, conversing earnestly. When Daily Maverickapproached, they turned away.

“No English,” one said.

70 kilometres distant, in the commercial hub of Bellville known as “Somali-town” for its preponderance of Somali immigrants, news of the Malmesbury attack had reached locals by the afternoon.

“People are saying he was mentally ill,” Abdulhakim Husein, head of social services for the Somali Association of South Africa (Sasa), told Daily Maverick.

Sasa’s offices were shut, as they have been since June 4 due to Ramadaan and Eid. Husein said he had no knowledge of the attacker’s identity, but confirmed that Malmesbury had a “quite big” Somali population.

Western Cape MEC for Community Safety Dan Plato has announced that plans are under way to meet the Muslim and Somali communities of Malmesbury in the wake of the attack.

That authorities are viewing the Malmesbury mosque attack as warranting a high priority investigation was evident from the fact that the Hawks speedily replaced local cops on the morning of the attack.

But when a long-delayed press briefing within the Malmesbury church eventually took place, it was clear that the Hawks were not willing to be any more forthcoming on the incident than the unit has been in recent weeks about the Verulam attacks.

“We have taken over the investigation,” Western Cape Hawks spokesperson Philani Nkwalase told journalists. “Certain issues are being ironed out.” He could not take questions, he explained. A statement would be issued as soon as possible.

More than a month after the Verulam attacks, meanwhile, police commissioner Khehla Sithole was called upon by Parliament to provide an update into that investigation.

“The Verulam investigation is a diverse investigation,” Sithole subsequently told eNCA, explaining that it involved the combined efforts of detectives, crime intelligence and the Hawks.

In analyzing the modus operandi of the Verulum attacks, Sithole said that the Hawks had determined that it was a “diverse modus operandi” which suggested “issues which would talk to national security”.

While he said that the Hawks “had progressed” with that investigation, Sithole said that no information would be given as to “how close we are to the suspects”. He did not elaborate further on any theories as to the motives for the Verulam attacks.

The Hawks say it is much too soon to speculate that the Verulam and Malmesbury attacks are linked, while the Muslim Judicial Council has warned against uninformed speculation.

But the wall of silence from authorities about the Verulam investigation has been a source of frustration and concern to other Muslim religious leaders.

Before the second attack, Claremont Main Road Mosque’s Imam Rashied Omar warned Daily Maverickthat tensions were flaring within the Muslim community in the absence of any official answers as to what motivated the Verulam attack. A press conference scheduled to be held on June 11, 2018 by Islamic leaders in Cape Town had to be cancelled due to death threats and backlash against those calling for strengthened intra-faith solidarity.

On the eve of Eid, those tensions are certain to be heightened by the Malmesbury attack. And while calls for restraint about linking the two mosque attacks are sensible, parallels between the two are equally obvious. Mosques in two remote country towns have been targeted in knife attacks just a month apart: a type of violence hitherto unprecedented in South Africa.

As the sun set in Malmesbury, the bodies of the two men murdered in the mosque some 14 hours earlier were undergoing their last rites. Of the attacker’s body, there was no sign – but the effects of his brutal crime will not be made to disappear so easily.