Police have launched a manhunt for three men who launched an attack on a Durban mosque on Thursday, stabbing three people and setting alight parts of the mosque. According to Eyewitness News (EWN), one victim died in hospital while the other two are in a critical condition.
Police are investigating a case of murder and two cases of attempted murder. The man who died had had his throat slit, according to reports.
The police's Nqobile Gwala told EWN, "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."
Gwala reportedly added that the suspects set parts of the mosque alight. News24 reported that the mosque's library was petrol bombed.
The motive for the attack is not clear, and authorities are not saying whether or not the attack is being considered an act of terrorism, although the moque was attended by Shia muslims, leading to suspicions that sectarianism could be the cause.
The police have not said what the motive for the attack might be. Chairperson of the South African Muslim Network, Faisal Suleman, 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 reportedly told community radio station Voice of the Cape the same thing.
"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," said Haseen.
According to News24, at around 14:30 on Tuesday, the suspects arrived, parked their car in a neighbour's driveway, and three men entered. The mosque's chairperson, Azad Seedat, told News24 that two people were inside the mosque when the attack happened. A third person was stabbed when he entered the mosque to investigate after hearing screams.
Afzal Mitha, among the first to arrive at the scene, told News24, that the muslim cleric, one of those injured, managed to jump out of the second floor window after being stabbed. He reportedly said the attackers accused the men of "brainwashing people".
The attackers reportedly fled the scene in a white Hyundai Getz.
A witness who spoke to TimesLive described the scene as a "slaughterhouse".
"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," he reportedly said.
Private security company Reaction Unit South Africa's Prem Balram 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."
According to The Mercury, Balram said the attackers are believed to be Egyptian nationals.
The Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa "vehemently condemned" the attack, according to News24. 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'," Taliep said.
"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," said the Board's vice-president, Zev Krengel. "Places of worship should always provide a safe space and its sanctity should be respected."
Parliament's portfolio committee on police called on police to prioritise the attack, according to TimesLive. 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."