An apparent arson attack on a mosque in a suburb of Brussels has killed the mosque's imam and reportedly caused serious burn damage to the building, police say.
A man set fire to a suburban Brussels mosque on Monday, killing the 47-year-old imam, injuring one other person and burning much of the building down.
Police said they received a call at 6:45 p.m. local time from someone who said they had seen a man setting fire to the Shiite mosque in the suburb of Anderlecht. They also said they had taken a suspect into custody at the scene, and that he identified himself as a Muslim born in 1978. His identity could not be immediately verified, and officials said they were investigating whether he had any accomplices.
"It seemed that this person showed up and pulled out a knife and an ax, and that he spread flammable products - petrol we assume - in order to start a fire and threaten the mosque occupants," said Jean-Marc Meilleur, a spokesman for the Brussels Prosecutor's Office.
An official at the mosque told the AFP news agency that the attacker was "a Salafist," an ultra-conservative branch of Sunni Islam. Isabelle Praile, a senior official in Belgium's organized Muslim community, said the attacked mosque "had already been placed under police protection several years ago" because of direct threats from members of the Salafist movement.
The imam reportedly died of asphyxiation, and his body was pulled out 45 minutes after the call to the police was received. He reportedly died while trying to put out the flames. A second person who was with the deceased during the attack was lightly injured.
"The mosque was apparently almost entirely burned down," police spokeswoman Marie Verbeke said.
The Belga news agency reported that around 50 people had gathered around the mosque after the attack, but said the situation was calm.
"I brought my eight-year-old son here with me so that he can see blind hate, what it can do," said Ismael Ben Mohammad, 40, adding that he felt "a sadness difficult to describe."
acb/av (AFP, dpa)