Several thousand Muslims across Ethiopia in recent days have protested against the burning of four mosques in the Amhara region.
The attacks last Friday in Motta town, more than 350km (217 miles) north of the capital Addis Ababa, also targeted Muslim-owned businesses. Muslims have called for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has called the attacks “attempts by extremists to break down our rich history of religious tolerance and coexistence”. Recent ethnic-based unrest in some parts of the country has at times taken religious form.
Prominent Muslim scholar Kamil Shemsu on Tuesday told The Associated Press news agency there are “political actors who want to pit one religious group against another” and blamed the negative role of activists and videos circulated online.
Amhara regional officials said they have arrested 15 suspects in connection with the attacks. Police commander Jemal Mekonnen told state media the attacks appeared to be triggered by news of a fire that broke out in an Orthodox church a few days earlier.
Regional officials were criticised for their slow response and their inability to stop similar attacks.
Many communities across Ethiopia, including Addis Ababa, have seen demonstrations.
While ethnic violence has been a persistent problem under Abiy, recent unrest appears to have been at least partly motivated by religion.
During several days of violence in the Oromia region in October that killed more than 80 people, attacks on mosques and Orthodox Christian churches were reported.
Yet analysts caution that conflicts that appear to be rooted in religion are often also shaped by disputes over land use, ethnicity and other issues.
Muslims make up about one-third of Ethiopia’s population of 110 million, second only to Orthodox Christians at 40 percent, according to the last census which was conducted in 2007.
But Muslims are vastly outnumbered in Amhara, the country’s second-most-populous region where Orthodox Christians make up more than 80 percent of the total.
The attacks on the mosques were condemned by the Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, the government-backed Fana Broadcasting reported.
(SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES / ACCESSED: AL JAZEERA)