Sunni tried for deadly arson attack on Belgian Shiite mosque
A Moroccan man admitted setting fire to a Shiite mosque in Brussels to protest the crackdown on fellow Sunnis in Syria when he went on trial Thursday for the attack that killed the imam.
But Rachid El-Boukhari, 35, denied intending to kill the preacher at the main Shiite mosque in the Belgian capital when he addressed the court here, according to news reports.
Boukhari, who describes himself as Sunni, risks a life sentence if found guilty of carrying out the attack on the Rida mosque just before evening prayers on March 12, 2012.
He is accused of “a terrorist offence” as well as “arson causing death” under the “aggravating circumstances” that the attack was “based on religion.”
“Yes, I knew that there was at least one or two people in the mosque when I set it on fire,” the defendant told the Brussels court, according to the Belga news agency.
“But I thought they would leave through the door. The problem is that one of these people shut the door and we all found ourselves shut inside the building,” he was quoted as saying.
“I didn’t think a man would die. I just wanted to wake up the Shiites,” he said denying he intended to kill.
“I wanted the Shiite community to become aware of the situation in Syria. Over there, the Sunnis who were calling then for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to fall were suffering abuses,” he added.
President Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Boukhari was arrested at the scene after he allegedly hurled abuse at Shiites, blaming them for the repression in Syria. Armed with an axe and a knife, he poured petrol on the building and set fire to it.
The fire spread quickly through the mosque and the imam, Abdellah Dahdouh, a 47-year-old father of four, succumbed to the fumes after having first tried to put on the blaze.