A Shiite Muslim religious leader in Sydney was shot while locking up an Islamic prayer hall early Monday in what local media are describing as the possible spread of Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence to Australia.
Witnesses told the Sydney Morning Herald that hours before the shooting, several people had driven past the Husainiyah Nabi Akram Center chanting slogans in Arabic including, "ISIS is coming" and "ISIS will stay," referring to the Islamic State group fighting to establish a caliphate in Iraq, Syria and beyond.
The Islamic State is a Sunni Muslim extremist group whose members view Shiite Muslims as infidels and avowed enemies in their quest for regional domination.
Rasoul Al-Musawi, 47, who is originally from Iraq, was shot in the face and shoulder shortly after 1:00 a.m. on Monday. Eyewitnesses told Australian media that others who were still at the center following services for the Shiite Ashura holiday dragged him back inside where they administered first aid.
A friend of the victim told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that those driving past the mosque had shouted "Shia dogs" and threatened to come back and shoot people.
"We didn't believe them and we went home and we got a phone call that one of our community members got shot in the head,” said the man, who asked his name not be published.
"My dad just held his neck and ran inside," Al-Musawi’s daughter told ABC Australia. "I was like, 'what's happening' and all I saw was blood running down his head and neck."
Sydney Shiite community member Jamal Daoud told the Sydney Morning Herald that "extremists" had been trying to intimidate Shiite Muslims trying to enter the center.
He said that on Sunday night, hours before the shooting, the Islamic center’s leader notified police that people were driving by and making threats, including, "ISIS is coming."
Daoud also told the Herald that on Friday, a volunteer security guard was punched in the face by three men.
"These people have been conducting a campaign of intimidation for the past few weeks. I talk to many of the people in the community, and they're very concerned and they're very scared," Daoud said.
Local police say they are investigating several lines of inquiry.
"They shot an innocent guy, a family man. This is Australia, it's a safe country. How can this happen?” an eyewitness told ABC.
Australian police in September detained 15 people in what was described as a major counterterrorism operation prompted by intelligence that suggested Islamist radicals were planning to attack Australians, including staging a public beheading.
The raids of more than two dozen properties around Sydney and elsewhere involved some 800 federal and state police officers.
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