Hunt for church attack suspects in Malaysia

File photo of a burnt building in Malaysia.

BALIK PULAU, Malaysia - Penang police are hunting down two suspects in an arson attack on the Church of the Assumption in Lebuh Farquhar in Penang.

Two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the 228-year-old church at about 1.30am yesterday.

Both petrol bombs landed in the compound and did not hit the church.

The incident had Penang CPO Senior Deputy Comm Datuk Wira Abdul Rahim Hanafi hot under the collar as tension was already running high over the use of the word Allah.

"I'm giving a strong warning to those trying to create tension.

"Don't play with religion and cultural issues!" the outraged police chief said, his voice thundering at a press conference held at the southwest district police station here yesterday.

"We believe two men on a motorcycle committed the crime before fleeing the scene.

"One exploded but the other remained intact. We are checking all CCTV recordings in the area to identify the suspects," SDCP Abdul Rahim said.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who also visited the church, urged Penangites to remain calm.

"SDCP Abdul Rahim told me that patrols have been increased for churches and mosques to ensure the safety of the religious places and also to ensure peace and public order.

"I understand that about 250 policemen from Ipoh have been deployed here to beef up security."

Parish priest Father Dominic Santhiyagu said the security guard on duty had contacted him several minutes after the Molotov cocktails were hurled into the church compound.

"One exploded near the Mother Mary shrine, while the other dropped on the grass in the church compound.

"The gates were locked at that time," he said.

The attack on the church came less than a day after five churches in the state found controversial banners with the word Allah hung outside their premises on Sunday morning.

Police said that various parties had lodged nine police reports over the banner and one on the bomb attack.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the culprits behind the controversial banners were implementing "reverse psychology" to provoke the public.

"I hope that NGO leaders, be they Muslim or Christian, remain calm.

"Don't make a big issue out of it and leave it to the police to investigate," Dr Ahmad Zahid said in Putrajaya.