arson attack on a Swedish mosque has left at least five people injured, in an incident that comes amid fierce debate over immigration in the once-welcoming Scandinavian country.
“A witness saw somebody throw an object through the window of the building, which serves as a mosque, after which a violent fire began,” police spokesman Lars Franzell told Reuters on Thursday, December 25.
Between 15 and 20 people were attending midday prayers in the mosque in Eskilstun town, about some 90 kilometers west of Stockholm, where arsonist set fire to the building.
At least five worshippers were hospitalized, “two were treated for smoke inhalation, two suffered lacerations and one a foot injury”.
The attack was described as an “arson” by the police. No suspects have been identified so far.
The arson comes amid rising tide of the anti-immigration trend in the European country.
Released earlier this month, an academic research found that Sweden Democrat (SD) voters hold “drastically more negative views” about Muslims than other anti-immigration voters.
The results come as SD made major election gains after taking 13% in last September’s elections.
Promoting an anti-immigration agenda, the far-right Democrats were challenged recently by the Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, who called the party “neo-fascist”.
According to the latest opinion poll by recent opinion poll by YouGov, far-right could win about 18% of votes in next March’s elections.
Thursday’s attack left Swedish Muslim community shocked, heightening their fears of increasing anti-Muslim sentiments.
“There has been an intensification of hatred against Muslims,” Sweden’s Islamic Association head Omar Mustafa told public radio SR on Thursday.
At the same time last year, vandals scrawled swastikas on the doors of the central Stockholm mosque.
A few days after the attack, a group of Sweden citizens put bouquets of pink and white flowers taped over the black swastikas.
This month’s attack has prompted the same solidarity with the Muslim community.
A Facebook group was launched to condemn Thursday’s attack and show solidarity with Eskilstuna Muslims.
“We want to have a society where all Eskilstuna residents can feel safe and included,” the group Eskilstuna United (Tillsammans för Eskilstuna) wrote.
Muslims make up between 450,000 and 500,000 of Sweden’s nine million people, according to the US State Department report in 2011.
In 2013, around 300 hate crimes against Muslims were reported in Sweden.
Such incidents are on the rise according to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet).
“If information that the fire was arson is correct it is a direct attack on freedom of religion in our country,” Culture and Democracy Minister Alice Bah Kuhnke told the TT news agency. ONISLAM