Malaysian police said they arrested 17 suspects Monday after violence broke out at a Hindu temple near Kuala Lumpur, in what authorities described as an escalation of a dispute over the relocation of the house of worship.
Seven people suffered injuries after a group of men attacked devotees at the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Subang Jaya township, said police. Eighteen cars and two motorcycles were smashed or torched during Monday’s incident, authorities said.
“It has nothing to do with racism. This is related to the transfer of the temple to a new location nearby,” Police Inspector-General Mohamad Fuzi Harun told reporters in Kuala Lumpur. “As for those arrested, they are all locals.”
Police seized two machetes, two sticks and two pipes allegedly used by the suspects during the early morning attack, Fuzi said.
“We have also identified the mastermind and will be calling in the person soon for questioning,” he added.
Fuzi urged all parties, including politicians and religious figures, to avoid issuing statements that could inflame tensions in multi-ethnic Malaysia, which has a Malay Muslim majority and Chinese and Indian minorities who follow other religions.
“Stop making speculations and irresponsible comments even though the situation is under control,” he said.
Jeyakumar Subramaniam, the temple’s chief priest was quoted by New Straits Times newspaper as saying that the violence “had nothing to do with racial issues.”
“I believe it has something to do with the relocation issue plaguing the temple right now,” he said. “Some parties are attempting to twist the facts with regard to what happened.”
In an audio recording obtained by BenarNews, Jeyakumar said the groups who launched the attack at the temple were not member of the Malay majority because they spoke an unfamiliar language.
“They were not Malays, he said. “They sounded like Indonesians.”
About 61 percent of Malaysia’s 32.4 million people are Muslims and about 1.6 million are Hindus.
Despite its multicultural make-up and civil liberties that are enshrined in the country’s federal constitution, Malaysia has experienced racial violence, including rioting that occurred in the aftermath of the 1969 general election.
The Sri Maha Mariamman temple sits on private land belonging to property developer One City Development. Four years ago, a court ruled in favor of One City and ordered the temple to be relocated more than 3 km (almost 2 miles) away.
The developer denied any involvement in Monday’s violence.
“Allegations that One City orchestrated the incident are malicious lies. One City condemns any acts of violence or any insinuations that would resort to such despicable acts,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, a group of Malaysian Indian parliamentarians condemned what they called an “unprovoked attack on the temple.”
“We call for a full and independent inquiry by the police to establish who is behind this serious attack on the temple and the motive for it. Those responsible for this violence must be caught and punished, said a statement signed by four MPs.