Literally minutes after the bloodbath at the Imam Husain Mosque on Old Main Road in Ottawa, Verulam, on Thursday, there was a flurry of activity as law enforcement officers, eThekwini Secure patrollers and concerned citizens, dashed to secure various mosques in the Overport area upon receiving a call, stating that the moulana needed assistance at the Brickfield mosque which was said to be under attack.
Speaking to the Weekly Gazette, Ethekwini Secure and Cluster CPF PRO, Zain Soosiwala, said it was a sight to behold when law enforcement officers and community members worked hand in hand and covered every mosque in the area to ensure that there was no threat of attack as reported at the Imam Husain Mosque in Ottawa.
“On receiving the call and taking no chance that it was a hoax, police, citizens and patrollers took to the road and covered the territory to clamp down on any possible attack. Once the area was secured in a mind-blowing 30 minutes upon receiving the call, it was determined that the call was a hoax as all mosques were declared safe. Mayville SAPS response to the incident was phenomenal,” said Soosiwala.
This incident signalled the implementation of the Worshipper Protection Initiative a week in advance to the start of Ramadaan to ensure that the mosques and the community in the eThekwini area remain protected.
“The attack at the Ottawa mosque appears to have been an isolated incident but the lack of intel at the onset of the tragedy spurred us to ensure that we have procedures in place to respond to such violence. The hoax call regarding the attack on the ‘Brickfield Road mosque’ also prompted us to determine our level of preparedness in view of such incidents. Bearing these occurrences in mind, the Worshipper Protection Initiative was kicked off last Thursday and is in full swing as off yesterday evening,” said Soosiwala.
On Thursday, 35-year-old mechanic, Abbas Essop lost his life when he responded to screams for help from the mosque across his workshop in Ottawa. Essop had rushed into the Mosque after three men armed with knives stormed the building after midday prayers.
Prem Balram, head of a private security company in Verulam, Reaction Unit South Africa (RUSA), said the RUSA headquarters were inundated with calls stating a terrorist attack at the Imam Hussain Mosque in Ottawa.
“Reaction Officers found that two victims were knived and were bleeding profusely.
Paramedics were called to the scene to attend to the critically injured men. Reaction Officers then noticed smoke emanating from the mosque and attempted to douse the flames. A third victim was found inside the building bleeding from a wound to his throat. A knife was found beside the victim,” said Balram.
On Sunday, Mother’s Day celebrations were abruptly halted and tensions ran high after several families were evacuated in the vicinity of the Imam Husain Mosque on Old Main Road in Ottawa after a device resembling a bomb was located inside the mosque building.
The device, a small cellphone connected via wires to a white capsule, was found under the Moulana’s chair. It was moved by a worshipper and was later removed by the SAPS Bomb Disposal Unit.
Residents in the Ottawa area are since struck with fear following the slaughter at the mosque on Thursday and the bomb recovery on Sunday. They feel that the attacks are going to continue with some even fearing that other places of worship may be attacked next.
The Hawks have taken over investigations following the attacks and spokesman, Captain Simphiwe Mhlongo described the act as elements of ‘extremism.’ He continued to say that no arrests have been made yet. Cpt Mhlongo confirmed that the device found at the mosque on Sunday night has been positively identified as an explosive device but its chemical nature has not yet been determined.
Essop’s brother, Farouq, has described him as a humble person who would do anything to help those in need.
“My brother was very kind and humble, he always helped people. He left behind a wife and two children, age two and five. We are very devastated as a family right now and only hope for justice to prevail” said Farouq.
The Muslim Judicial Council strongly condemned Thursday’s attack. In a statement issued the council said, “We remind South Africans that the makeup of our society is one of religious‚ cultural and ethnic diversity and tolerance. We call on all communities to remain law-abiding citizens and refrain from any and all forms of vigilantism.” Imam Hussain Mosque chairman and co-founder Azaad Seedat told the Weekly Gazette that the matter is still being investigated by authorities and he cannot comment much on the attacks. “We can’t say too much now but we are following safety measures to keep everyone safe from these attacks,” he said.
Soosiwala said of the Worshipper Protection Initiative that upon its implementation last year, there had been no serious crimes reported, but there were numerous incidents of theft of shoes, items stolen from jacket pockets, etc. and two car theft reports.
“Our aim this year is to ensure that the congregant who kneels in prayer has the assurance that his family at home and himself at the mosque are safe during this worship time. Members standoff at every mosque and the Zello channel is operative. Help is readily available for those in need. We have engaged the commitment of law enforcement officers, CPFs, security companies, citizens, patrollers who will be posted throughout to offer protection and lend assistance on call. The initiative is not exclusive to the eThekwini area and extends to surrounding areas, as well. We are hoping for an incident-free Ramadaan but in light of the recent crime-wave which saw 10 cars hijacked in the eThekwini and surrounding vicinity in 48 hours last week coupled with the gruesome mosque attack, we are striving to be prepared to protect our communities as best we can as a team,” Soosiwala added.
“This Ramadaan, on behalf of eThekwini Secure and the Cluster CPF, I wish all who are fasting strength, joy and peace. Ramdaan Mubarak,” said Soosiwala.