Analysis: Mosque bomb a second strike in unholy war
As Muslims embark on Ramadan, a period of reflection and spiritual upliftment, blood has already been spilt in a brewing SA Sunni-Shia war
A fatal knife attack and the failed bombing of a Shia mosque may be the first salvo in a new sectarian war in the South African Muslim community.
The wave of attacks at the Imam Hussain Mosque, which left one man dead and a community on tenterhooks, could signify an escalation in tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, political scientist Dr Hussein Solomon said.
In South Africa, the Sunni denomination accounts for the majority of the Muslim population – estimated to be about 3% of the country’s 56 million people.
The Shia mosque, established in 2010, is one of only three in the country, and has before come under threat.
Last week’s attack, however, signalled a significant shift in the opposition and danger it faces.“Tensions globally between Shias and Sunnis have run high and this is not something new. Attacks on Shia mosques in the Middle East are very common.
“What we are now seeing is an escalation to violence in the local context with both Iran and Saudi Arabia trying to increase their influence via the respective communities.” Solomon said.
He said the intolerance between the two sects set them against one another, with a physical attack inevitable.
Solomon, who has a special focus on terrorism and counter-terrorism in Africa, has been criticised for being anti-Islamic.
“We have an ideological intolerance [between the denominations] for some time and there have been threats against that particular mosque, so it doesn’t surprise me that we have gone to the next phase.”
“Along with the condemnation of the attack from the Muslim Judicial Council, we need condemnation of the ideology behind it all,” he added.
Solomon said there has been a 1,000% increase in Islamist terrorist attacks in Africa since 2006 and the real cause is the extremist ideology.
“Both Shia and Sunni ulama need to get together and find a middle ground.”On Monday the Hawks confirmed that a device found beneath the moulana’s chair in the Imam Hussain Mosque was in fact an explosive device.
The discovery of the pipe-bomb came four days after a bloody knife attack which claimed the life of bystander Abbas Essop.
Essop‚ a mechanic‚ charged headlong into the mosque in the small town‚ north of Durban‚ after three knife-wielding men stormed the building after midday prayers.
The caretaker and muezzin (the man tasked with leading the call to prayer)‚ Muhammad Ali‚ had noticed the men at the gate and, thinking they were coming to pray‚ let them inside. Once in the property‚ the men attacked Ali and Moulana Ali Nchiyane with knives before torching the mosque’s library. Essop died in hospital from fatal knife wounds.
He became a collateral casualty in the attack‚ believed to be motivated by “extremist elements” intent on killing the resident moulana and razing the building to the ground.And while Shia clerics are insisting that there is a solid link to the Islamic State, terror commentator Jasmine Opperman, of the Africa Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, said that the presence of the bomb – an improvised explosive device – was not indicative of a global terror presence.
“The production of an IED is accessible to anyone and you need only look to social media networks to find handbooks on how to make these in your kitchen. The insinuation that there is extremist involvement is alarmist,” she said.
“It’s time to ask the right questions. We must understand what is happening at that mosque and what tensions and feuds exist between individuals and the moulana there.”
Opperman said jumping to an “extremist conclusion” and to call it terrorism is wrong, playing into the hands of the extremist propaganda campaign.