A 24-year old man has been arrested for a possible hate crime after attacking worshippers with bear spray while carrying an axe in a Mississauga mosque.

Local police have said they are considering all possible motivations for the act, including hate crime.
Local police have said they are considering all possible motivations for the act, including hate crime. (Twitter/@SenatorVictorOh)

A violent attack has taken place in a local mosque in one of Canada's populated cities, Mississauga.

Ibrahim Hindy, imam of the Dar Al Tawheed Islamic Centre, said worshippers heard the noise of a man emptying bear spray all over them as they were praying the dawn prayer on Saturday.

"They turned around and saw this man had an axe in his hand and he was spraying them with [bear spray]. It seemed like he wanted to spray everyone and create like a cloud before he attacked them," Hindy said, adding that those at the mosque "quickly overpowered" the attacker.

One of those who had stopped the suspect was a 19-year-old young man, Hindy noted, saying "he was able to push him down and then they were able to pin the attacker down and hold him down until the police were able to arrive."

Hindy further noted that no one was seriously injured but that a number of people are still feeling the effects of the bear spray.

Local police in the Peel region of Ontario, Canada, issued a statement saying: "Officers from 12 Division have arrested a Mississauga man responsible for a possible hate-motivated crime that occurred at a Mosque in the City of Mississauga."

Just around 1100GMT (7AM local time), "a man walked into the Mosque and discharged bear spray towards the members of the Mosque while brandishing a hatchet. The members of the Mosque quickly subdued the man until police arrived," according to the police report.  The investigation on the incident is ongoing, added the police.

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Rising anti-Muslim sentiment

Responding to a question on rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada, Imam Hindy said: "There's no question that's on our minds."

"Islamophobia is real. We know that…unfortunately, it's in this country as well," Hindy said.

Hindy urged Canadian officials to provide more added protection for places of worship, as there have been multiple violent incidents now.

"We need added protection at places of worship. We need more law enforcement ensuring that there's protection for people who are going to worship and we want politicians to be enlightened to the dangers of hatred and Islamophobia and mental health issues that exist in this country. It's for them to try to tackle that comprehensively."

The National Council of Canadian Muslims also issued a statement regarding the incident saying: "Our community will never be broken and we refuse to be intimidated."

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter described the attack as "incredibly disturbing" and "strongly condemned" it.

"I strongly condemn this violence – which has no place in Canada – and I’m keeping the community in my thoughts today. I also want to applaud the courage of those who were there this morning," Trudeau said.

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Source: AA