MALMESBURY, South Africa: A man stabbed two people to death and wounded two others in an attack at a mosque in South Africa on Thursday, before being shot dead by police, officers said.
Police have surrounded the building in Malmesbury near Cape Town outside which a body lay under a tree and a penknife had been discarded nearby, said an AFP correspondent at the scene. The attacker’s motive remains unclear.
It comes just a month after a deadly stabbing at another South African mosque which police said had “elements of extremism” and left an Islamic leader dead.
Police were alerted by early morning worshippers and arrived at Malmesbury’s mosque to find two people had died of stab wounds, Noloyiso Rwexana, spokeswoman for the Western Cape police, said.
Two other people were wounded and are being treated in hospital.
“The suspect, believed to be in his thirties and armed with a knife, charged at the police who tried to persuade him to hand himself over,” she said.
“He ignored the calls and tried to attack police. He was shot dead.”
Rwexana said police are now “combing the scene for clues.”
Local media said the suspect was Somali, but police have not confirmed this.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC), which represents the Muslim community in South Africa, said it was “shocked to the core” over the incident, which came at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
The MJC appealed to the community to not jump to conclusions about the attacker’s motives and said its top leadership would travel to the area to assist the community.
It comes a month after an attack at a mosque in the town of Verulam, on the outskirts of the eastern port city of Durban.
Three unidentified assailants killed a Mosque leader on May 10 by slitting his throat and injured two others after midday prayers.
The assailants in that attack, who also set off a petrol bomb inside the mosque, escaped in a car and remain at large.
Their motive remains unclear, but a police spokesman said at the time that the attack had “elements of extremism. It shows hatred toward the worshippers.”
The Verulam attack was a watershed moment for South Africa, where about 1.5 percent of the country’s 55 million population is Muslim.
Asked if Thursday’s attack was the first of its kind in the region, police spokesman lieutenant colonel Andre Traut said: “I can’t recall of another incident, but all possibilities are being investigated.”
“It’s way too soon to speculate as to a possible motive — or link with any other incident in the country,” he told the eNCA broadcaster.
The country prides itself on religious tolerance and has been spared the extremist attacks that have dogged other countries on the African continent.
Neighboring Mozambique has been rocked by a wave of attacks blamed on militants in recent months.
Since October around 30 people have been killed with knives and machetes in the country’s far north, a region that has been earmarked as a potential hub for natural gas exploration.
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