A church has been fire-bombed in an attack that gutted its ground floor, church officials said, escalating a dispute over the use of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims.
Al least two other churches are also believed to have been attacked in the last 12 hours in the Klang Valley - the Assumption Church in Jalan Templer, Petaling Jaya and the Life Chapel Church in Section 17, Petaling Jaya.
A fire department official said all stations were on alert for more blazes at religious buildings, ahead of planned nationwide protests today by Muslim groups angry over the use of the word as a translation for 'God' by Christians.
The three-storey Metro Tabernacle church in Desa Melawati, Kuala Lumpur, part of the Assemblies of God movement, was set ablaze in the attack which took place around midnight, said church leader Peter Yeow, 62.
"Witnesses saw four people smash the glass and throw incendiaries into the church building. They came on two motorcycles," he told AFP at the scene as fire department forensic officers picked through the wreckage.
There were no casualties in the attack on the church, which occupies the corner lot of a row of shop houses and which Yeow said draws some 1,500 people weekly.
"The fire destroyed the administrative part of the church. We do not know if the prayer hall on the third floor suffered any damage," he said, warning all other churches to "double their guard" against any attacks.
Anuar Harun, who headed the fire department operation, said that forensic experts were working with the police and a canine unit to probe the blaze.
"We are investigating the cause of fire. We cannot provide any more details. It is a sensitive issue," he said when asked if it was a case of arson.
"We have asked all our fire stations to be on alert for such fires on religious premises," he told AFP.Meanwhile Kuala Lumpur police chief Sabtu Othman said the police found one spanner and a kerosene container at the scene, along with two scorched helmets.
He said that the police were investigating the matter under Section 436 of the Penal Code which can punish an offender to 20 years' jail and a fine.
Meanwhile the Assumption church, which is located next to the Assunta Hospital, is believed to have come under attack at about 4am today.
Church officials said that homemade firebombs were thrown into the Catholic church but fortunately they did not explode.
A third church, in Section 17, Petaling Jaya, was also attacked last night, causing some damage to the outer building of the Life Chapel Church.
Building erupted into flames
The High Court last week ruled in favour of the Catholic weekly, The Herald newspaper, which has used 'Allah' as a translation for "God" in its Malay-language section. The government has said the word should be used only by Muslims.
The ruling was suspended on Wednesday pending an appeal, after the government argued the decision could cause racial conflict in multicultural Malaysia, where Muslim Malays make up 60 percent of the population.
The security guard at the Metro Tabernacle church, 65-year-old V Mariappan, said he had just walked away from the main entrance of the building to use the bathroom when the building erupted in flames.
"When I came back, there was a huge fire inside the church building. There was a few loud explosions like bombs exploding," he said, adding he saw two motorcycle helmets lying on the road in flames.
The Herald's editor Father Lawrence Andrew has warned of a campaign of intimidation including hacker attacks against the weekly's website, protest plans and widespread criticism in the media over last week's ruling."We believe these actions (are designed) to create a climate of fear and a perceived threat to national security so as to pressure the court in reversing its decision," he said this week.
The Herald, which is printed in four languages, has been using the word 'Allah' as a translation for 'God' in its Malay-language section, but the government argued 'Allah' should be used only by Muslims.
More than half of Malaysia's Catholics are from indigenous groups, most of whom live in Sabah and Sarawak and who mainly speak Bahasa Malaysia.
Anwar (PKR) tells supporters not to join protests (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/121335)
Najib (Current PM): We can't stop people from protesting (http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/121331)
From above .... can you tell who is the real leader?