More than a thousand protesters took to the streets in Sweden on Friday to urge an end to a spate of attacks against mosques, amid growing tensions over the rise of an anti-immigration party.
The demonstrations in Sweden's three largest cities, Stockholm, Malmoe and Gothenburg, under the banner, "Don't touch my mosque," came a day after what was believed to be the third arson attack on a mosque in the span of a week.
"We want to send the message that these attacks on mosques ... are a problem for all of society and not just Muslims," Mohammed Kharraki, a spokesman for Sweden's Islamic Association, told Agence France-Presse from the largest demonstration in the capital Stockholm. "This is about people being denied their basic rights. ... Everyone needs to ask themselves—politicians and citizens—if this is the kind of society they want."
Eyewitnesses saw a man throwing a Molotov cocktail at a mosque in Uppsala in eastern Sweden early on New Year's day, three days after a late-night blaze at a mosque in Esloev in the south, which police suspect was also arson. The slogan "Go home Muslim shit" was emblazoned across the doors of the building.
On Christmas Day, five people were injured in another suspected arson attack on a mosque in Eskilstuna, west of the capital Stockholm. Swedish police said that they were stepping up security around mosques and continuing to search for the culprits.
"We are working flat out with the investigation, but we have no leads to report yet," police spokeswoman Lisa Sannervik in Uppsala told AFP.
Mats Lofving, acting police chief, told Radio Sweden that police were taking three measures in the wake of the attacks: increased monitoring of mosques, increased dialogue with Muslim communities and priority given to investigation of mosque attacks in cooperation with the country's intelligence agency.
Lofving stressed, however, that it was too early to say whether the three latest attacks were to be considered as serious attacks.
"It could be anything from youthful want of judgment, boyish pranks, to deliberate and planned," he said.
According to the anti-racism magazine Expo, there have been at least a dozen confirmed attacks in the last year on mosques in Sweden, where Muslims make up roughly 5 percent of the country's 9.5 million people. A far larger number of attacks are believed to have gone unreported, the magazine reported.
In a government survey of hate crimes in November, two-thirds of Swedish Muslim associations said their buildings had been vandalized.
Sweden's minister for culture and democracy, Alice Bah Kuhnke, said the latest attacks were "aimed at intimidating and diminishing" people. "That's why one of the most important things we can do is to not let ourselves be intimidated," she told demonstrators in Stockholm.
The mosque attacks come as debate intensifies in Sweden over immigration in the traditionally tolerant Nordic country, which is expected to receive a record 100,000 asylum applications this year.
Last month, the far-right Sweden Democrats, which doubled their support to 13 percent in September elections, came close to bringing down the left-green government over its refugee policies. The party, which wants to cut immigration by 90 percent, has increased its support in opinion polls to around 16 percent.
Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse