The Hawks outside the Mosque in Verulam that was the scene of a brutal attack. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
The Hawks outside the Mosque in Verulam that was the scene of a brutal attack. Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

The Hawks have taken over the investigation of a mosque attack in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal, which claimed the life of a man and left two others injured on Thursday.

Three knife-wielding men stormed the Imam Hussain Mosque in Ottawa after midday prayers, targeting the imam and two others.

One of the men, who had his throat slit, died shortly after arriving at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital.

A witness‚ who arrived at the scene shortly after the knife attack‚ said the parking lot looked like a slaughterhouse.

Police spokeswoman Capt Nqobile Gwala said a docket had been registered at the Verulam police station but Hawks investigators would take over the investigation on Friday.

A manhunt had been launched in the wake of the attack, after the three knifemen fled in a car.

Gwala said that no arrests had yet been made.

"Upon assessing the crime scene it was found that there was an element of extremism to it," Simphiwe Mhlongo, a spokesman for the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, the official name of the Hawks, told Reuters on Friday morning.

The chairman of Parliament’s portfolio committee on police‚ Francois Beukman‚ said the alleged attack was shocking and the South African Police Service should prioritise the investigation.

"A mosque is a religious institution‚ and SA’s Constitution guarantees and protects the right to religious practices. This kind of attack on three innocent people is totally unjustified. We want our communities to live in harmony‚ practising their religions without fear‚" he said.

Beukman said everything should be done to arrest the perpetrators‚ and called on anyone with information to contact law enforcement agencies.

The Muslim Judicial Council strongly condemned Thursday’s attack.

In a statement‚ the council reiterated that a core teaching of Islam was "respect for all human beings".

"We remind South Africans that the makeup of our society is one of religious‚ cultural and ethnic diversity and tolerance‚" the statement read. "We call on all communities to remain law abiding citizens and refrain from any and all forms of vigilantism."

The Democratic Alliance called "for a speedy investigation in order to get to the bottom of this attack". Spokesperson Refiloe Nt’sekhe said: "Such heinous attacks at places of worship have no place in a democratic society."

Christians of South Africa (Cosa) said any attacks on a mosque or other place of worship was "a barbaric act of cowards that must be met with the equal force".