Police officers stand outside the Rida mosque which has been set on fire in Anderlecht commune in the west of Brussels, Tuesday, (Photo: Reuters).
Belgium's Muslim community was in shock Tuesday after a man set fire to a Shiite mosque in Brussels, leaving the imam dead in an act some linked to tensions between Shiites and Sunnis.
As investigators interrogated the suspect, a self-described Muslim in his mid-30s, members of the Shiite and Sunni communities met to ensure calm after the arson attack late Monday, which also left two other people injured.
Interior Minister Joelle Milquet suggested inter-religious strife may be to blame after the suspect stormed into the Rida mosque with an axe, a knife and fuel, shouting about the conflict in Syria.
"It appears to be a problem between Sunnis and Shiites," Milquet told RTBF broadcaster, adding that investigators still had to confirm the motive.
"Belgium will not tolerate this type of act and the importing of this type of conflict on its territory," she said, adding that the government would take "all necessary measures" in coming days to prevent attacks.
Centuries-old tensions between Islam's Sunni and Shiite movements have fuelled violence in several Muslim countries, from Iraq to Yemen and Pakistan.
But the vice president of the Muslim Executive of Belgium (EMB) group, Isabelle Praile, rejected any links between conflicts abroad and the arson, calling it "an isolated case."
While insisting the two communities live in peace in Brussels, she did call for extra security for worshippers, saying that the attack "revived a feeling of insecurity among Shiites."
Prosecutor Jean-Marc Meilleur said authorities were still trying to determine the suspect's motives and his identity. The man gave three different names and indicated he was an illegal immigrant.
The mayor of the city's Anderlecht ward, Gaetan Van Goidsenhoven, said Sunnis and Shiites were "thirsty for reconciliation" when they met after the arson.
"They expressed the need for calm to return, for all beliefs to be respected," he said.
More than 100 men gathered near the Rida mosque shortly after the fire, shouting Shiite slogans as others hugged or cried over the death of imam Abdullah Dadou, a 46-year-old father of four who died of smoke inhalation.
Around 15 worshippers returned to the scene of the fire on Tuesday, staring at the heavily-damaged building.
The area around the Brussels mosque, one of four Shiite centres of worship in the city's overwhelming majority Sunni community, has a large immigrant Muslim population.
A mosque official, Azzedine Laghmich, said the attacker was a Sunni Salafist who shouted Sunni slogans and something about the conflict in Syria.
The mosque had already been placed under police protection several years ago due to threats from members of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement, Praile said.
The last time an imam was targeted in Brussels was in 1989 when Saudi-born Abdullah Muhammad al-Ahdal was shot dead.
He served as imam in the Grand Mosque of Brussels and was killed in March of that year by an armed man inside the mosque.
His killing was claimed by a small pro-Iranian group in Lebanon who accused him of being too moderate and of having rejected the death fatwa slapped on writer Salman Rushdie.