UPDATED: A masked man attacked the imam of Norway’s largest mosque late Monday night, just after he’d walked home from leading evening prayers. Initial reports from the scene claimed he’d been attacked with an axe but police now say they believe the attacker stabbed the imam with a knife. The case is being handled as an attempted murder.
No arrests had been made by late morning. Police searched through the night for the religious leader’s assailant, using both dogs and helicopters, while the imam underwent emergency surgery at Ullevål University Hospital.
Nehmat Ali Shah, of the Central Jamaat Ahle-Sunnat mosque in Oslo’s Grønland district, was listed in life-threatening condition when he was rushed to hospital just before midnight. On Tuesday morning, the hospital reported his condition to be serious but stable. His condition improved enough later in the day that he could be released, and the 57-year-old religious leaders reportedly was home resting with his family Tuesday evening.
Police had no motives for the attack nor did the leader of the mosque’s board, Ghulam Sarwar, who told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the two had eaten dinner together shortly before the attack. Sarwar said the attack occurred as the imam entered the building where he lives, not far from the mosque.
“He had gone into the building’s backyard and was at his door when he was attacked from behind,” Sarwar told NRK. He said the imam is widely viewed as a popular leader and that he has no idea what motivated the attack.
“We have never experienced that the imam had any enemies, and he hasn’t received any threats,” Sarwar said. “We’re very shocked.”
Nearly 50 people from the mosque gathered at Ullevål Hospital during the night, to pray while their imam underwent surgery. Police, meanwhile, launched massive manhunt and said Tuesday morning that they had secured video from surveillance cameras in the area, in an effort to track the attacker’s movements. Police have also interviewed several witnesses.
Rune Ullsand, operations leader for the Oslo Police District, said the suspect was wearing a mask that covered his entire face, possible a white ski mask of sorts. He was wearing black jogging pants with a white stripe on the back, a black jacket and grey shoes with white soles.