Last night, a Shia mosque in Brussels was the target of an arson attack. The 46-year-old imam of the mosque died of asphyxiation during the fire. While local police say that it is still “too early” to identify motive, Shia religious officials, citing eyewitnesses, insist that the perpetrator was a Salafist. Salafism is an ultra-fundamentalist current in Sunni Islam. It is the same fundamentalist current as that embraced by al-Qaeda. Salafists regard the Shia as heretics.
The perpetrator is reported to have been apprehended by parishioners and bystanders on the scene of the crime and then turned over to the police. His identity has not been revealed. The targeted mosque was the Rida mosque in the Anderlecht neighborhood of Brussels.
According to Azzedine Laghmich, a Shia official who works at the mosque, the perpetrator set the fire with benzine at the interior of the building and then attempted to escape while yelling Salafist slogans linked to the conflict in Syria. “It’s a Salafist,” Laghmich told the Belgian press, “All the eyewitness reports make this clear.”
The minority Alawis in Syria are regarded as a branch of Shia Islam. Syrian President Bashar Assad and his family are Alawis. Salafists have played a major role in the opposition to Assad (see here, for instance), and there are numerous signs of direct involvement of al-Qaeda in the conflict.
According to Isabelle Praile, a Shia member of the Executive Board of Belgian Muslims, the Rida mosque is the most important Shia mosque in Belgium, and it already had to be placed under police protection several years ago on account of threats from Salafists.