It’s been five hours since the attack, but his body is still lying in the open field, uncovered. One foot is naked, his toes pointing toward the sky, the other covered with a dark shoe. He wears black pants and a dark jersey with what appears to be a brown kurta underneath.
A knife he was apparently carrying was found 100m from his body behind a tree. It’s unclear whether this is the weapon he used in his rampage inside the Malmesbury mosque.
All that is publicly known of his identity is that he is a Somali man. He is believed to have killed two worshippers in the early hours of Thursday morning on what is likely the final day of Ramadan.
A small group of worshippers, including the victims, were at the mosque for itikaf — an Islamic ritual of spiritual seclusion. Ismail Bassa (72) and a Somali man were killed when the attacker began stabbing worshippers between 3am and 4am. Bassa’s throat was slit.
Two others, including the mosque’s moulana, were injured. The Somali victim’s name is being withheld until his family has been contacted.
Bassa’s son, Faizel (23), sped to disarm the attacker in the mosque when he realised his father was in danger. “I’m still coming to terms with this stuff,” he says. “The guy attacked me and he attacked the moulana. I then got a few shots [punches] in, but then he turned around and he stabbed me in the face and the arm. When I tried to get away, he stabbed me in the back.”
On Thursday afternoon, the mosque was reopened so family members could pray for the deceased. Bloodstains on the walls and the floor, where two pairs of shoes remained, bore witness to the attack.
Family members at the Bassa house say Saud Bassa, Faizel’s brother, had been alerted to the attack. Bassa’s home is almost on the doorstep of the mosque. According to the family, when Saud heard about the attack, he ran outside and saw a knife-wielding man. Assuming he was the attacker, Saud got into his car and gave chase.
The attacker ran into a field some 200m away, where Bassa knocked him over with his car. The injured attacker still attempted to flee, but police arrived and cordoned him off. He was shot dead after he allegedly repeatedly attempted to attack the police with a knife.
At 12pm on Thursday, the attacker’s body was still lying in the field as forensic experts studied the scene. Pathologists were on standby and a small crowd of spectators hovered, watching the macabre scene in front of them. The body was removed just before 1pm.
The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) could not yet say what would happen to his body. “Uncertain, unfortunately,” said MJC spokesperson Mishka Daries.
Hawks provincial spokesperson Philani Nkwalase confirmed that the Hawks had taken over the investigation of the deaths of the two congregants from the police but the attacker’s death will be investigated by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.
The Hawks said they would release more information on Thursday but were “ironing out” details at the time this story went to print. The Bassa family, meanwhile, expected to receive Ismail’s body in the late afternoon.
The Malmesbury mosque killing is the second violent incident to occur at a mosque, after the attack at Verulam in KwaZulu-Natal last month. It is not clear whether the two are related.