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Imam dead in Belgium mosque arson: police

world Updated: Mar 14, 2012 11:17 IST

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A man set fire to a mosque in Brussels on Monday, killing its 47-year-old imam and injuring another person, in an arson attack that destroyed a large part of the building, police told AFP.

Police officials at the scene said the imam died in the attack following an attack on the Rida Shiite mosque, the largest of the four Shiite mosques of Brussels and its environs.

"There is a lot of damage, apparently the entire mosque, or almost the entire mosque, burned down," said police spokeswoman Marie Verbeke.

"A suspect was taken into custody at the scene," Verbeke said, adding that it was too early to talk about motives. The suspect's name has not yet been released.

The imam, whose name was also being withheld for the moment, succumbed to the fumes from the fire. A second person who was with him at the time of the attack was lightly injured.

Anderlecht mayor Vincent Van Goidsenhoven said the suspect threw a Molotov cocktail at the mosque, Belga news agency reported.

Within hours, several dozen local residents and members of the mosque congregation gathered at the ruins.

"I brought my son 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."

Abdel Adouzeyneb, a 39-year-old real estate agent, said that imam left behind four children.

"He was a person who was loved by everybody," he said. "He was open, well integrated, smiling and happy."

Police said they received a call at 6.45pm (1745 GMT) and the body was pulled out 45 minutes later.

The area around the mosque, near Belgium's main international railway hub, has a large immigrant Muslim population.

Belgian interior minister Joelle Milquet said she was "very shocked by the events that have occurred" which she condemned "with firmness and indignation."

Fadila Laanan, a regional minister said on her Twitter account that she was "scandalised by this attack in my community against a mosque."

"A man is dead and that is despicable, nothing can excuse such an act."

The last time an imam was targetted in Brussels was in 1989 when Saudi-born Abdullah Muhammad al-Ahdal was shot dead.

He served as imam in the Grand Mosque of Brussels and was killed on March of that year by an armed man inside the mosque.

His killing was claimed by a small pro-Iranian group in Lebanon who accussed him of being too moderate and of having rejected the death fatwa slapped on writer Salman Rushdie.