Armed attackers struck a mosque outside the South African city of Durban on Thursday, stabbing to death an imam and injuring two others in a country known for its peaceful religious relations.
Three men entered the large mosque after midday prayers, carrying guns and attacking the victims with knives and then releasing a petrol bomb that set fire to the building.
Police said the attackers remained at large after escaping in a Hyundai car from the Imam Hussain mosque in Verulam town, on the outskirts of the eastern port city.
“The motive of the attack is unknown at this stage. Verulam police are investigating three counts of attempted murder and arson,” police spokeswoman Nqobile Gwala said in a statement.
The incident appeared to be unprecedented in South Africa, where about 1.5 per cent of the country’s 55 million population is Muslim.
Paul Herbst, spokesman for the private IPSS medical rescue service, said that the imam had his throat slit and passed away a few hours after the attack.
“There were three people in the mosque — a caretaker, a worshipper and the imam and they were held up by three armed men,” Herbst said. “The (imam) was tied up and thrown to his knees and his throat was slit.
The other two men were also stabbed — one was stabbed in the abdomen and the other in the groin of his left leg.