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Updated: January 22, 2010 20:21 IST

Malaysia police arrest 7 more over church attacks

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In this January 14 photo, police investigators inspect offices of the law firm representing Christians in their fight to use the word
In this January 14 photo, police investigators inspect offices of the law firm representing Christians in their fight to use the word "Allah," after it was ransacked by burglars, adding to religious tensions in Muslim-majority Malaysia, in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. AP.

Malaysian police said on Friday they have arrested another seven Muslim men, bringing to 15 the number of suspects held in connection with a spate of assaults on houses of worship amid a dispute over the use of the word “Allah” by Christians.

Religious tensions have risen since a court ruled on December 31 that non-Muslims can use “Allah” as a translation for “God” in the Malay language. Many among the country’s ethnic Malay Muslim majority believe the word should be exclusive to Muslims, and its use by others could confuse some Muslims and even entice them to convert.

Since January 8, there have been assaults on 11 churches, a Sikh temple, a mosque and two Muslim prayer rooms by assailants mostly using firebombs. Only one attack did serious damage and no injuries have been reported.

Police earlier this week arrested eight Muslim suspects believed to have orchestrated the most serious attack, which partially gutted a church in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s largest city.

Another seven men, all Malays aged between 17 and 29, have been detained since late Thursday over the attacks of two churches in northern Perak state, said state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah.

They will be held in custody for six days for further investigation before facing possible charges, punishable by a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a fine.

“We believe with the arrests, we have solved the case in Perak,” Mr. Zulkifli said.

Government authorities have condemned the church attacks amid efforts to preserve decades of amicable relations between Malays, who make up nearly two-thirds of Malaysia’s 28 million people, and religious minorities, mainly ethnic Chinese and Indians who practice Buddhism, Christianity or Hinduism.

The dispute centres on a court ruling that favoured the Herald, the newspaper of the Roman Catholic Church in Malaysia, which argued it has the right to use the word “Allah” in its Malay-language edition. They argued the word predates Islam and is commonly used by Christians in other predominantly Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Indonesia and Syria.

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