In the wake of a mosque attack that left one dead and two other critically injured, the Catholic bishops of South Africa have offered their prayers and condolences to the victims, and strongly denounced the attack as an act of religious violence.

“We heard with great shock and sadness of the attack on the Imam Hussein Mosque in Verulam, Durban and the tragic killing of an imam and the injury of two other people. On behalf of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa, we offer our deepest condolences and sympathy to the family and friends of the murdered imam, and wish the injured a speedy and full recovery,” the bishops said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to the community of the Imam Hussein Mosque who have been so brutally violated. You are in our thoughts and prayers.”

On Thursday, multiple assailants attacked the Imam Hussain Mosque during midday prayers, slitting the throat of an imam and critically injuring two others.

Authorities are unsure of the motive of the attackers, but have said that the attack has “elements of extremism” that could point to the involvement of the Islamic State, according to The Guardian.

The Catholic bishops said that they “strongly condemn this bloody and futile attack and call upon law enforcement agencies to work diligently to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

Local Islamic leader Aftab Haider told the Guardian that the mosque was likely attacked for being a Shia mosque, and could be connected to a Sunni faction of the Islamic State, which has continually threatened Shia Muslims in South Africa.
“There has been a huge organised hate campaign in different mosques, radio stations and on social media against the Shia community. There have been threats at this mosque before, but not in the weeks leading up to this incident,” Haider said. “It has all the hallmarks of the ISIS style of operations in Iraq and Syria.”

This kind of attack is uncharacteristic for South Africa, which is known for its religious tolerance and in which only about 1.5 percent of the population identifies as Muslim.  

“Religious tolerance has long been a characteristic of South African society and those who wish to wreak havoc, and set one faith community against another, must never be allowed to succeed,” the bishops said. “We will continue to pray for peace in our country and throughout the world, a peace that is based on respect for the dignity and rights of each human being.”

The bishops’ statement was issued on May 11 and was signed by Archbishop Stephen Brislin, president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference.