Hundreds of Muslim protesters descended on a Jehovah' Witness temple and a bar in a conservative Muslim neighborhood of the Senegalese capital on Sunday, setting the buildings on fire in a rare instance of religious extremism in this normally moderate Islamic republic.
Thierno Mbeugne, spokesman for the local imam association, said the head imam in the conservative Yoff district of Dakar had asked the youth to march on Sunday against what they considered as "acts of aggression against their faith." They were targeting the temple because they claim its members were proselytizing, and the bar because it was selling alcohol.
He said the Islamic religious leaders did not endorse the violence, "but they do think that the youth were right" to destroy the church and the bar.
One of the rioters Mame Faye, 24, explained that the mob set upon the temple while churchgoers were praying inside before setting upon the bar.
Other witnesses, however, said that the hundreds of protesters burst into the establishment and began drinking the cans of beer. They then stripped the building, making off with the refrigerator, the air conditioners and the furniture. Then they set it on fire.
A doctor who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press said his clinic had treated 37 people, including several wounded police officers. One had a stab wound. The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd.
Mbeugne claimed that the head of the temple had been actively trying to convert locals. He said that under the cover of teaching English, she had started handing out crosses and Jehovah's Witness literature.