KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian police said two pig’s heads were found at a Malaysian mosque close to a neighborhood hit by an ethnic clash nine years ago following a series of arson and firebomb attacks on churches.
The discovery of the pig heads — an animal considered offensive to Muslims and whose consumption is prohibited — could further inflame tensions in the mainly Muslim country, prompting police to issue a stern warning against stirring up emotions.
Eleven churches, a Catholic school, a Sikh temple, two mosques and two Muslim prayer rooms so far have been hit by arson and vandalism attacks in recent weeks over the use of the word “Allah” by Christians.
Police said the pig heads were found about 5:30 a.m. local time at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur in Selangor state.
“I am warning people not to try and influence the situation and don’t try to take advantage to raise the anger of any ethnic group,” Selangor police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told Reuters.
The mosque is located near a neighborhood which in 2001 was hit by an ethnic clash that reportedly left six people dead.
Khalid said police were working closely with local mosque and neighborhood committees to try and keep residents calm.
The row stems from a court ruling on December 31 last year allowing a Catholic newspaper to use “Allah” in its Malay-language editions.
A group created in the online networking site Facebook to protest the use of the word by non-Muslims has so far attracted more than 250,000 people.
The use of “Allah” is common among Malay-speaking Christians, who account for 9.1 percent of the 28 million population, especially in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.
Opinions are split, but many Malays have expressed unhappiness over allowing the word to be used by Christians.
The government has warned that laws, including the Internal Security Act that allows detention without trial, would be deployed to keep tensions from boiling over.
Police have so far arrested 19 people over the attacks, and a 25-year-old Malay student was charged in court on January 15 with threatening public safety following a comment he reportedly made on his Facebook page offering to throw petrol bombs.
The government of Prime Minister Najib Razak is appealing the court verdict and has condemned the arson and vandalism attacks, but analysts have said he would likely lose votes among non-Muslims unhappy with the row.
Malaysia’s mainly Chinese and Indian non-Muslim ethnic minorities, who form 40 percent of the country’s population, abandoned the ruling coalition in the 2008 general elections partly due to complaints over increasing religious marginalization.
Analysts have said the arson attacks, though not an immediate risk, are raising worries among some foreign investors at a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to lure more foreign investment.
Malaysia, which between 1990 and 2000 accounted for half of all foreign direct investment into it, Thailand and Indonesia, has now lost its leading position. Najib is trying to woo them back with economic liberalization measures.
Reporting by Razak Ahmad; Editing by Bill Tarrant