Police arrest suspect in temple vandalism case

GEORGE TOWN • Several recent incidents of idols in Hindu temples being desecrated in Penang are believed to be the doing of a 45- year-old Indian drug addict, police said.

Penang police chief Abdul Ghafar Rajab was quoted by Bernama news agency as saying the incidents had nothing to do with racial issues or militants linked to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

He said the man was arrested in Sungai Dua district in Penang on Wednesday and he admitted to damaging three idols at the Sri Muneiswaran Temple on July 10. "He was high on drugs at the time of his arrest," Bernama quoted the police officer as telling a news conference.

On Tuesday, Mr Abdul Ghafar showed a picture of the man and closed-circuit television footage from one temple showing the suspect moving one of the Hindu idols.

The vandalism at six Hindu temples in Penang, Perak and Kedah in the last two months had raised worries among Hindus. Police this week formed a special task force to look into the cases.

Mr Abdul Ghafar said the suspect had 13 criminal records: Seven were related to crime and six were for drug offences.

Asked what led the Indian man to damage the idols, he said: "We believe he could be angry over something or intended to steal the jewellery at the temples."

In the latest two cases, two temples 4km apart had their statues broken and the jewellery kept beneath the statues stolen, The Star newspaper reported.

Mr Abdul Ghafar said police recovered jewellery from the suspect, including gold rings, chains and lockets, as well as a sickle and two mobile phones, Bernama reported. Police are probing whether the same man was involved in damaging idols at three other temples in Penang and whether he operated alone or had accomplices.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Police arrest suspect in temple vandalism case'. Print Edition | Subscribe